Bulls vs. Wizards playoffs: late-game woes strike again for Bulls

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

fatigued, or just not dynamic enough?

As was pointed out in the recap of game one, perhaps the most foreboding aspect as it pertains to the rest of the series was that this was a game the Bulls had in control. As high as a 13-point lead in the 2nd half, and a 3-point lead in the final 6 minutes. Not a commanding margin, of course, but the Bulls were thought to be the poised and battle-tested team that would take over a playoff game like that.

The problem was they just couldn't score. The Bulls had their full 'closing' lineup in at around the 8:30 mark, and from then on until the final :30 (when Jimmy Butler had a fairly meaningless and-one...cherry-picking to make a point, here), the Bulls were out-scored 20-11. The Bulls shot 4/13 and 0/5 from three.

[ It was much worse when looking at the final 5 minutes: the Bulls only basket between then and when the game was already decided was a Noah tip-in that should've been called basket interference. But for the rest of this I'm using that closing lineup's total non-garbage-time minutes. ]

None of the usual was working, for a lineup that had been very good in the 'Since Trade of Deng' (STD) part of the season. Augustin (who, god help us all, is the team's leading scorer) was a particularly poor 0/4 from the field and missed both of his 3-point attempts.

Both Augustin and Taj Gibson had been on the floor since the final 2:45 of the 3rd quarter, and Jimmy Butler had been in for the entire second half. It's worthwhile to wonder if fatigue may be playing a factor: whether in this game, the season finale loss to the Bobcats, or in several other late-and-close contests to end the season.

Butler in particular has seen his performance significantly drop in 4th quarters this season, as his STD stats in that period drop to 19% from three and 66% from the line. Butler was arguably the Bulls best player on Sunday night, in the first half especially: a real terror on both ends with a couple of NFL defensive-back type steals and frequent strong drives to the rim. However, in that 4th quarter stretch his only shot was a missed three-pointer and only points were on a split pair of free-throws. And as pointed out often in the comments during the game, Butler was showing a lack of confidence in his shot by frequently pump-faking when open to pass to a teammate who wasn't, contributing to a total breakdown of offensive possessions.

Gibson was also quiet in that time, hitting a jumper at the 7:30 mark but afterwards going not only scoreless but rebound-less for the rest of the game. Taj was also far more active in the first half than in the second, with 3 offensive rebounds keying a nice Bulls run heading into halftime. After halftime, Taj had 0 offensive rebounds and the Bulls as a team saw their Offensive Rebounding Percentage (a huge key in this series) drop from a fantastic 36% to a paltry 11% over the course of the two halves.

It's possible that these three were just having a bad stretch as opposed to something that can directly be tied to the way their minutes are deployed. And from Thibs's standpoint, there's both an unlikelihood of change as well as few real alternatives. Hinrich was in the game a bit earlier than usual and there could be more Mike Dunleavy seen in that time, but Thibs has gone quite a while with Augustin playing entire 4th quarters and Butler entire second halves. I highly doubt we will see Carlos Boozer in the closing period, nor do we really want to. There's no hidden gem off the bench that will likely be trusted (heck, Snell playing that much in the first half was a huge surprise).

It's probably going to just be an expectancy that the usual closing stalwarts play more to their standard for the remainder of the series. Butler was poor, and Hinrich was needed way too much, but when they're required it is probably already too late for the Bulls offense. Augustin, Gibson, and Noah (who was adequate in the time mentioned, but was overmatched against Nene for the entire game) are who the Bulls need to play well to close games. The Wizards present a unique size matchup issue against all of them, which is a concern to be sure, but something that just needs to be overcome. That, or making sure it's a blowout early.

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