Despite a healthy early lead for the Bulls, John Wall and the Wizards raced out to a comfortable 107-97 victory at the United Center. After a slow start, Washington was consistently able to get out in transition and make the Bulls pay. Wall orchestrated the Wizards’ offense excellently and no one on Chicago was able to match him. The game was tied entering the fourth quarter, but Washington systematically outpaced the Bulls down the stretch, continuing a maddening trend.
Jimmy Butler tallied an impressive line of 20 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, but undoubtedly had an off night overall. He converted just six of 20 field goals and missed all four of his
free throw three point attempts. Butler turned the ball over four times and defensively wasn’t able to slow down Washington’s talented backcourt enough for the Bulls to win the game. He failed to record a steal or a block for the first time since November 15th. He did school Kelly Oubre Jr., though:
We're flying Air Jimmy tonight! ✈️ pic.twitter.com/ucfNrnAVFn— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 22, 2016
When Butler is off, the Bulls need Dwyane Wade more than ever. Unfortunately, he didn’t have his best night either. Wade made only seven of his 20 shot attempts and only added three rebounds and assists apiece. He was a big culprit in the Bulls inability to slow down Washington’s transition offense, in which Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 44 points and 14 assists. Wade’s aggressive offense was valuable in a competitive first half, but he converted only two of his nine second-half shots.
Taj Gibson knocked down his first five field goals (after shooting eight-for-eight on Monday) to lead the Bulls to an early 15 point lead. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks and has unquestionably been the Bulls most consistent player not named Jimmy Butler. He also provided the highlight of the night, courtesy of an ambitious Wizards’ benchwarmer (Sheldon McClellan):
Nikola Mirotic put together another solid game off the bench after his brief hiatus from the rotation. He had 11 points, six boards, and a block in 22 aggressive minutes. Mirotic was playing with a force that we haven’t always seen, and it mostly paid off for the Bulls. There’s no excuse for the beatdowns the Bulls suffered against Milwaukee last week, but perhaps Fred Hoiberg did know how to motivate Mirotic into playing his best ball.
The rest of the bench, however, continues to struggle. Doug McDermott fumbled to find easy offense yet again in his 26 minutes. He did manage to get up six three-point attempts, a welcome threat for the Bulls and well above his season average of 2.5. However, he only grabbed three rebounds and two assists, as it’s become frustratingly clear that McDermott won’t provide much for the Bulls outside of his renowned shooting. Yet Doug has converted only 32.6 percent of his triples this year, well below league average.
Cris Felicio was more than serviceable in his first half stint—scoring six points in seven minutes—but didn’t play after halftime. Jerian Grant won the Backup Point Guard Roulette tonight and was predictably bad, tallying five points and two assists in 14 minutes. Grant has been awful this season and at 24 doesn’t have as much potential as many second-year players. The Bulls really need Michael Carter-Williams back.
The first-string point guard had a pretty tough night himself, as Rajon Rondo missed nine of his 10 shot attempts. Time and time again, Rondo clanked an open jumper that a starved Bulls offense needed tonight. With the aforementioned lack of depth at the position, there’s not much Fred Hoiberg can do about it currently.
The Wizards consistently brought more energy throughout the night and the Bulls paid for it. While Jimmy Butler is often capable of seemingly superhuman performances, they simply can’t be counted on every game. The Bulls are a flawed team finding just how thin its margin for error can be.