In a game of wild swings and multiple tussles, the Bulls dug themselves out of a big first-quarter hole and built their own second-half edge, only to see the Wizards fight back, the game go into an extra session and after a final rally of their own, fall short Tuesday night at the United Center, losing Game 2 of the first-round series, 101-99, to shockingly face a 2-0 series deficit.
After all-time NBA blocked-shots leader Dikembe Mutombo officially presented Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 rebounds) with his Defensive Player of the Year trophy prior to the jump ball, the Wizards proceeded to score the first seven points of the contest. The Bulls made it competitive, cutting it to a 9-6 game, but Washington quickly rattled off six consecutive points, prompting a Tom Thibodeau timeout.
While the Bulls’ offense improved after the coach halted the proceedings, his team’s defense didn’t, at least not initially, as the Wizards continued to hit a barrage of outside jumpers, win the battle of the boards and score in transition off their hosts’ turnovers, and led by the young backcourt duo of All-Star point guard John Wall (16 points, seven assists, five rebounds) and second-year shooting guard Bradley Beal (26 points, seven rebounds) — the latter was mostly defended by Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler, who played all 53 minutes — the visitors jumped out to a double-digit advantage. Thibodeau made several late-period substitutions in attempt to stop the bleeding and one of them, D.J. Augustin (25 points, seven assists), paid off, as the backup point guard scored eight points late in the frame to keep things from getting more out of hand, resulting in the Bulls trailing, 31-20, at the conclusion of the first quarter.
Augustin continued to provide a spark in the second frame and got assistance from Noah and veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich (12 points, seven rebounds, four assists), though they were unable to significantly slice into the deficit, as Beal’s scoring and the presence of reserves like undersized power forward Trevor Booker (nine points, eight rebounds) and 38-year-old point guard Andre Miller buoyed Washington. The Wizards shot a gaudy percentage from the floor, while the Bulls endured their typical struggles, which prevented them from closing the gap.
But midway through the stanza, the Bulls made a push, going on a 9-0 run that was briefly interrupted by a mild skirmish between Hinrich and Beal — fighting for position on an inbounds pass, the opposing guards got a bit too physical, resulting in double technical fouls, with Noah exhorting the partisan crowd in the aftermath — to make it a four-point game. Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson (22 points, 10 rebounds) came alive as halftime approached, twice cutting it to a one-point game, but that was as the close as the home team got, going into the intermission at a 54-49 disadvantage, following a Wall individual spurt.
After the break, the chippy tenor of the game persisted, with Noah and Wizards Trevor Ariza (eight points, eight rebounds, seven assists) scuffling, having to be separated and drawing double technicals. But the Bulls, always ready and willing to participate in an old-fashioned slugfest, gradually trimmed the deficit, making it a one-point game behind Noah and Augustin, who took over running the show after Hinrich picked up his fourth foul.
A Mike Dunleavy Jr. (nine points, four assists) jumper with 5:06 left in the third quarter gave the Bulls their first lead of the evening, as the veteran sharpshooter started to find his offensive rhythm in the period, while Augustin was dynamic as both a scorer and playmaker, while the ever-present energy of Noah, then Gibson, made the intended impact. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls had secured a 75-70 lead, after a jumper from Carlos Boozer with 1.5 seconds left in the period, capping a 12-for-19 frame shooting the ball for the entire team.
The game continued to be played at the Bulls’ pace in the fourth quarter and with the trio of Augustin, Noah and Gibson putting their respective stamp on things, the hosts maintained some breathing room, aided by the Wizards’ ineptitude from the charity stripe canceling out the experienced Miller’s effectiveness. Augustin’s wizardry with the ball (no pun intended) and outside-shooting prowess, combined by an improved defensive focus and the tandem of Noah and Gibson doing the dirty work on both ends of the floor made the Bulls’ modest cushion seem safe midway through the period.
Both teams battled foul trouble as the game entered its stretch run and while the Bulls managed to keep the Wizards at bay, a Beal three-pointer brought Washington made it a 91-88 affair with 2:48 remaining. Following a Noah turnover, Beal then hit a floater with 1:24 to go to make it a one-point game.
The Bulls failed to score on the subsequent possession and Beal drew a foul in the post, splitting a pair of attempts to tie the contest at 91 apiece with 51.2 seconds left, prompting a Bulls timeout. Gibson came up with two offensive rebounds — the first off a Hinrich missed jumper, the second carom was of an Augustin floater — but on the second, instead of awarding him the timeout he signaled, the referees called for a jump ball, symbolizing the uneven officiating that had taken place all night.
Washington won the jump ball and after a timeout, Beal, who had been their go-to scorer throughout the game, ended up with the ball in his hands. The precocious 20-year-old missed a baseline jumper as time expired, sending the game into an extra session.
Nene (17 points, seven rebounds) scored the first six points in overtime, while the Bulls picked the absolute wrong time to revisit the scoring-challenged part of their personality — Ariza’s size seemed to take the diminutive Augustin out of the game — getting on the board with a pair of Hinrich free throws with only 1:15 on the clock. Both the crowd and the Bulls reacted poorly to perceived wrong calls by the officials — some of which were valid complaints, others that weren’t, after viewing the replays — as time ticked away.
But the Bulls’ hopes remained alive, as a Noah bucket with under a minute to play was followed by a Wall offensive foul on the inbounds pass, then Noah drawing a foul with 34.7 seconds remaining. With an “M-V-P” chant as background music, the center hit both foul shots, drawing the Bulls to within two points, 101-99.
The Bulls’ defense got a stop on the other end and after a timeout with 14.6 seconds left, they took a timeout to set up a chance to win. Hinrich ended up driving to the rim and was fouled by Nene on a layup attempt, disqualifying the big man.
But the veteran missed the front end of his trip to the line, then purposefully missed the second and when the Bulls couldn’t secure the offensive rebound, it was all over, with a trip to Washington later in the week for Friday’s Game 3 looming.