The Bulls' offense disappeared for a second straight game Tuesday night, but it wasn't because of D.J. Augustin's efforts.
The reserve point guard poured in a team-high 25 points and handed out seven assists, temporarily igniting a Bulls offense that desperately needed it in their 101-99 loss in Game 2.
It was a pleasant surprise for Augustin, who struggled mightily in the Bulls' Game 1 loss when he missed 12 of his 15 shots and committed three turnovers. Tuesday he played the same way and again was aggressive, though this time his shots were pure. He made seven shots outside of the paint, accounting for nearly half of the Bulls' 16 made jump shots, and executed pick-and-roll action with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to perfection.
"I just played the same way. I was being aggressive like I was in Game 1 and it was just falling," he said.
If it weren't for Augustin, Game 2 may not have been as close as it wound up being. Washington's backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal got off to a red-hot start, scoring 17 points in the game's first 10 minutes to help the Wizards to a 17-point lead. That's when Augustin went to work, going on an 8-0 run by himself with a pair of 3-pointers and offensive rebound put-back to cut the Bulls' deficit to nine in the opening stanza. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts in Game 1, and Augustin's teammates said they expected a bounce-back and were happy to see it occur so early.
"He’s been doing it for us all year," Kirk Hinrich said. "We knew he was going to bounce back with a really good game and he did just that."
Hinrich scored 12 points himself, but he battled foul trouble most of the evening. He committed two fouls in the opening period, picked up his third in the final minute of the first half and fouled John Wall two minutes into the third quarter.
That meant more run for Augustin, whose 41 minutes were the most he had played in a Bulls uniform since late January, when he scored 28 points in 44 minutes as a starter against the Bobcats. And in that third quarter, Augustin scored three baskets to help the Bulls take their first lead of the evening, including a 75-70 advantage through three quarters. He stayed hot to begin the fourth, scoring five more to extend the lead even further, to eight, and he handed out his seventh assist a possession later on a Joakim Noah bucket.
"DJ played well tonight, hit some big shots," Noah said. "I think they were firing from all cylinders and DJ came in and really did a good job of bringing us back into the game. It’s just disappointing that we couldn’t capitalize off a great game from him."
[RELATED: Offensive woes sink Bulls again in Game 2]
Augustin didn't score in the game's final 13 minutes, missing the last three shots he took in the fourth quarter and not attempting a shot in the five-minute overtime period. But his disappearing act was more a case of what the Wizards did than anything Augustin didn't do. Head coach Randy Wittman deployed Wizards forward Trevor Ariza on Augustin the final half of the fourth quarter and overtime, and its effects were noticeable.
"They’re a good defensive team, you can’t take anything away from them. They’ve been playing really good defense. They’ve been denying us the ball, pressuring our guards and big men, so we give them a lot of credit but it’s on us to get open and make shots," Augustin said. "It’s tough. (Ariza is) 6-foot-8, 6-foot-7, so it’s tough for me to get open and get shots off. It was a good strategy for them and I think we went to some counters to get some guys open. They were smart and they played good tonight."
Those counters didn't work for the Bulls; from the 6:48 mark to the end of regulation, the Bulls went 1-for-8 and committed four turnovers, with just a Kirk Hinrich jumper and two Taj Gibson free throws to show for their output. In the overtime period they missed their first seven shots and committed a pair of turnovers, allowing Washington a six-point lead they didn't surrender the rest of the frame.
11 minutes, 48 seconds. Nearly an entire quarter's worth of offense, and the Bulls scored 12 points on 3 of 17 shooting with six turnovers.
And while Augustin was included in that offensive ineptitude, he's going to be called upon in every remaining game to be a scoring threat for the Bulls.
If two games have taught the Bulls anything, it's that the Wizards' up-tempo pace is dictating how both offenses play. If the Bulls can't figure out how to slow down Beal and Wall, and can't corral Nene inside and at the high post, they'll need to find a way to get the offense going, and that means Augustin continuing to hoist shots for the league's lowest-scoring offense in the regular season.
"It’s tough, but it’s not over with. We still have that mindset that we can win and that’s what we’re going to Washington with. We have to keep fighting and keep working," he said. "It’s a battle out there. Nothing is easy."