WASHINGTON, D.C.—It wasn’t exactly a wasted effort by the Chicago Bulls, as they learned a couple valuable lessons in their 101-99 loss to the Washington Wizards once Doug McDermott's fifth triple try wound up like all the rest: Not getting to the bottom of the net.
"I just gotta make that shot," McDermott said, going through the shooting motion in the Verizon Center hallway, wishing he could have come off his opposite shoulder, believing had he been just as open, the Bulls would have pulled off the improbable upset as opposed to licking their wounds after blowing a surprising 61-43 first half lead.
McDermott's confidence in himself and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg's confidence in him was evident, as the play was drawn up for McDermott to win the game late—a position many didn't predict the Bulls to be in with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Nikola Mirotic out.
Another position many didn't expect the Bulls to be in was the re-emergence of Rajon Rondo, who apparently earned himself an opportunity to play with the attrition of the existing personnel, and did enough in 27 minutes to make Hoiberg say he'll play Thursday in New York against the Knicks.
Rondo was a whirling dervish at times, playing with as much energy as some of the wide-eyed youngsters who finally got off the pine, playing without looking over their shoulders.
Defending well, getting three steals and pushing the pace, Rondo scored 12 points with six assists and four rebounds, making six of his 13 shots after being the first substitution off the bench, helping the Bulls storm a Wizards team that was obviously disappointed to be playing against something other than top-flight competition.
"I thought Rondo was really good," Hoiberg said. "I thought our pace, especially in the first half, was excellent. When he was in the game, it was good to see him aggressive, looking to score. He gave us a real lift."
Rondo didn't seem too impressed with his play one way or the other, preferring to heap praise on the younger players, like Denzel Valentine.
"He put the ball in the hole. Given an opportunity, a little bit more freedom today," Rondo said. "I was just trying to bring energy off the bench and push the pace. It's what I do."
Another lesson is that Valentine and Bobby Portis proved they belonged on an NBA court, displaying the verve and moxie that usually doesn't come with just playing a handful of games three months into an NBA season.
Portis hit shot 5-for-8 in 17 minutes, including three triples to score 13 points with seven rebounds. He played the way that hasn't been seen since his rookie year when filling in for Joakim Noah in the early going.
Valentine did his best to make up for what McDermott lacked at the 3-point line, hitting five triples on his way to 19 points in 30 minutes, hitting 7 of 11 overall. Spot-up shots and step-in triples, he didn't seem fazed by the task of going against more seasoned players in John Wall and Bradley Beal.
"I had a big first half, I shot it well, did some good things," Valentine said. "I probably could've made a couple more plays down the stretch but credit to them. They turned it up."
The Bulls offense came back to earth after a sterling first half, as they hit just 2 of 17 in the second half from the 3-point line when trying to keep the Wizards at bay.
"We had some good looks that didn't go down," Hoiberg said. "It wasn't because of lack of effort that we lost the game. We went out there and fought them to the end."
Six Bulls scored in double figures despite shooting just 40 percent from the field, and turning it over 18 times didn’t help matters, but the Wizards gave it away 21 times for 28 Bulls points.
After Valentine hit a triple to put the Bulls up 92-85 with seven minutes left in the fourth, he did a bit of a shimmy on the Wizards' end of the floor, filled with adrenaline and positive reinforcement.
Unfortunately, he learned a rookie lesson because Wizards All-Star guard John Wall was watching and used that little dance as motivation. Wall took over down the stretch, hitting a free-throw line jumper to tie the game and then another mid-range shot with 5 seconds left to give the Wizards a 101-99 lead.
It put a finishing touch on Wall's 26-point, 14-assist night and he passed on a message to Valentine before the final part of the onslaught.
"I play with a lot of emotion just like him," Wall told CSNMA.com's J.Michael. "I understand where he's coming from. I just said, 'Don't celebrate this early. You're a rookie. You haven't earned those stripes yet.' I told him, 'That's how you feel? You woke up a monster.' I just went on a scoring spree."
Usually, it's the Bulls who have their closer handling business down the stretch. For a night, they got to see what life was like on the other side—with a little drama and intrigue on their end, because that's seemingly what they do best.