WASHINGTON—The venue didn’t matter, as the Bulls (18-20) fell to the Wizards (19-19) for the second time in a week, again squandering the chance to get to .500, as well as fourth place in the Eastern Conference, following Friday night’s 96-93 loss at the Verizon Center.
After starting out in an 8-0 hole, the Bulls quickly stormed back to make it a competitive affair, courtesy of a 10-2 run. The contest went back and forth in the early going, with each team going on quick spurts, a spate of turnovers on both ends and to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s guaranteed dismay, Washington posting gaudy shooting numbers behind the inside-outside combination of point guard John Wall (23 points, 11 assists) and center Marcin Gortat (13 points, six rebounds), even as second-year shooting guard Bradley Beal (14 points) picked up a pair of first-quarter fouls.
Despite a balanced attack that saw the starting backcourt of Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich (18 points, five assists, five rebounds, three blocked shots), and the forward tandem of Duke products Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer (12 points, six rebounds) be productive, the Bulls mostly faced a narrow deficit throughout the opening period and after one frame, trailed by a 30-27 margin.
Taj Gibson (12 points) made his presence felt almost immediately upon checking into the game and it carried over to the second quarter, as he, along with backup point guard D.J. Augustin (16 points) and rookie Tony Snell, were key factors for the Bulls off the bench. Gibson’s play was countered by Wizards counterpart Trevor Booker (12 points), a rugged undersized power forward, who helped kept Washington’s second unit afloat.
Washington’s efficient shooting persisted, which was obviously not a good sign for a team that prides itself on being an upper-echelon defensive group, but the Bulls’ offense also kept pace, enabling them to stay within close contact. Still, after a Wall jumper with 1.7 seconds remaining before halftime, the Bulls remained behind, 54-50, at the intermission.
After the break, the Bulls gradually seized control of the game, propelled by the trio of All-Star center Joakim Noah (nine points, 12 rebounds, six assists), Boozer and Hinrich—who played with a then-rookie Wall during his brief stint in Washington after being traded from Chicago back in 2010—led the Bulls on a 14-2 run to take the lead. But it was short-lived, as the Wizards countered with an 10-0 run of their own, with reserve sharpshooter Martell Webster (14 points) keying things.
But all in all, a much-improved Bulls defensive effort in the period was a positive development in comparison to the first two frames, resulting in the game being knotted up at 74 apiece heading into the final stanza.
The Bulls got the jump on their hosts early in the fourth quarter, as the likes of Augustin, Snell and Noah, who extended his career-long double-digit rebounding streak to 11 consecutive games, made individual impacts. But Beal, hampered by foul trouble for most of the evening, appeared determined to finally put his stamp on the game, going on a scoring barrage from the outset of the period to make it a close-knit affair.
Gortat helped give the Wizards some breathing room, but a Hinrich jumper cut it to 96-93 with 1:46 to play. The Bulls would get no closer, however, as they were unable to capitalize on the offensive end on multiple possessions.
After a missed layup by Washington big man Nene, the Bulls would get a final opportunity with 10.4 seconds left, but the Brazilian big man redeemed himself by blocking a Butler three-point attempt at the buzzer.