With Nene suspended for Game 4, it seemed like a great opportunity for the Bulls to come out and punch the Wizards in the mouth right from the opening tip. Instead, the Bulls came out with absolutely nothing, and a late fourth-quarter run wasn't close to enough as the Wizards won 98-89 to put Chicago on the brink of elimination.
The Bulls trailed by as many as 23 in the fourth quarter before making a charge, getting to within eight with just over two minutes to go thanks to a bunch of missed bunnies, primarily by Marcin Gortat. But a Gortat dunk off a sweet find from John Wall stemmed the tide, and a Trevor Ariza basket on the ensuing possession after a Taj Gibson turnover was the dagger.
Ariza had himself a Mike Dunleavy Game, scoring 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 6-of-10 from three. Bradley Beal had another excellent performance, notching 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Wall struggled with his shot, going just 4-of-15, but he generally got wherever he wanted on the floor and racked up 10 assists. The Wizards only shot 40.7 percent overall, but eight three-pointers, 14 offensive rebounds and just six turnovers helped make up for that. The Wizards also did a great job turning defense into offense, scoring 29 points off 16 Bulls turnovers and notching 16 fast break points to just two for Chicago.
Gibson was a monster all game for the Bulls, scoring a career-high 32 points on 13-of-16 shooting, taking full advantage of the Wizards' Nene-less front line. But it was not nearly enough, as he got very little help from his teammates. Noah finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, but it sure didn't feel like he made that much of an impact. The Bulls' two point guards were absolutely terrible, combining to shoot 6-of-22 overall and 2-of-9 from three. Dunleavy had just six points after his 35-point outburst in Game 3, as the Wizards made the necessary adjustments by having their bigs sell out on him when he came off screens. Dunleavy left the game in the fourth quarter with a left thumb injury, and now we're just waiting on test results to determine the severity. Jimmy Butler was second on the team in scoring with 16 points, but he shot just 5-of-14 overall and 2-of-7 from deep.
The Wizards dictated play right from the tip. The Bulls have really struggled at the start of these games, and this one was nothing short of a dumpster fire. The Wizards made 6-of-7 shots to start, keeping the Bulls on the perimeter and forcing turnovers. With Dunleavy locked down, other Bulls were forced to step up, and it didn't happen. The Wizards, especially Nene replacement Trevor Booker, did a nice job denying Carlos Boozer the ball, and Kirk Hinrich bricked some decent looks, including putting one off the side of the backboard on a wide-open corner three.
Ariza had it going early for the Wizards, scoring 11 quick points, including three three-pointers. The Wizards scored the first 14 points of the game, and they also held leads of 17-2 and 19-4 in the first quarter. It looked like the Bulls were going to get run out of the gym, but as they have all series, they fought back. Some foul trouble to Gortat and Booker forced Drew Gooden and Al Harrington into the game, and the Bulls took advantage. Gibson made his mark immediately, drawing some more fouls and scoring eight first-quarter points.
The Bulls cut their deficit down to six, but a little run at the end of the first pushed the Wizards' lead back out to 10. Martell Webster got the Wizards' lead out to 14 at the outset of the second quarter before the Bulls, led by Gibson, went on a 10-0 run to get within four.
But once the Bulls cut it to four, everything went to shit again, with Ariza, Wall and Beal taking over the game on both ends. Wall got things going after a quiet first quarter, really exploiting his athletic advantages over Hinrich, who got extended minutes due to foul trouble to D.J. Augustin. Wall was able to get into the lane at will, scoring some points for himself and also doing a nice job finding his open shooters. Defensively, Wall pressured the hell out of Hinrich, forcing numerous bad turnovers and allowing the Wizards to get out in transition.
Despite how terrible the Bulls looked for much of the first half, they trailed by "just" 12 and had the ball in the last minute. Gibson had 20 points on 8-of-8 shooting in the half, and the Bulls had done a good job cleaning up all the bricks they were throwing up, notching 15 second chance points. However, Hinrich committed his fourth turnover of the half, and Ariza closed things out with a backbreaker three on an incredible find from Beal. The trey was Ariza's fifth of the first half, and the Wizards went into the break with a 55-40 lead. Non-Gibson Bulls shot 7-of-32 over the first two quarters.
Ariza buried yet another three at the start of the second half to give the Wizards an 18-point lead, but then the Bulls' offense began to wake up a little bit. Dunleavy knocked down a few shots after going scoreless in the first half, and the Bulls made 7-of-8 after going down by 18. Unfortunately, there just weren't enough stops on the other end, and that hot shooting only got the Bulls to within 10.
The Bulls then went into another offensive funk, and any chance of a comeback was seemingly dashed. Only seven points were scored the rest of the quarter, with bricked jumpers and woeful turnovers continuing to haunt Chicago. The defense wasn't up to snuff either, and the Wizards enjoyed a parade to the foul line, mostly courtesy of Boozer fouling anything that moved. Boozer picked up five of the Bulls' 10 fouls in the quarter and was basically useless the entire game.
An Ariza banked jumper late in the third quarter that put the Wizards up 21 signaled just what kind of day it was, and the Bulls' deficit was 20 heading into the fourth. Beal promptly knocked down a three at the start of the fourth to put the Wizards up 23 before the Bulls went on their late run to make the loss not quite as embarrassing.
So here we are. One game away from this season being over. It's almost impossible for me to believe the Bulls will come back and win this series, and it obviously wouldn't be surprising if the season ended on Tuesday in Chicago. However, I'm not shutting the door just yet. One game at a time.