With Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Nikola Mirotic out and expectations at zero, the ragtag band of healthy Bulls nearly pulled off a highly unexpected win. Down three major contributors, the Bulls gave their best team effort of the year and outworked Washington all night. Ultimately, John Wall and the Wizards were too much, claiming the 101-99 victory on a jumper from Wall with five seconds remaining. Rajon Rondo and Bobby Portis returned to the rotation while Denzel Valentine provided a major spark in his return from an ankle sprain.
The Wizards had a major talent advantage tonight and seemingly remembered that in the third quarter, outscoring the Bulls 32-16 after a lethargic first half. John Wall was seemingly everywhere, slicing through the Bulls defense and bothering Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant into forcing dumb turnovers. He finished with 14 assists, six rebounds, and 26 points—none bigger than the decisive last shot:
Without Butler and Wade controlling the offense through isolations, the Bulls were able to zip the ball around the floor to consistently find open shooters. Grant and Doug McDermott stepped up for the missing starters, but the Bulls didn’t take off until the much-maligned Rajon Rondo entered for the first time in five games. They drilled their first five triples and 8/10 in the first half, storming out to a 61-49 lead. Unfortunately, the shots stopped falling as Chicago converted a paltry 2/17 from deep after halftime. Denzel Valentine knocked down 5/11 long-range attempts—including 4/5 in the first half—while Bobby Portis hit 3/4 himself. Portis is still struggling to adapt to the flow of NBA basketball, but he looked great uncorking a few triples from the corner tonight.
Valentine appears to be finding his game as his injury-plagued rookie year churns on. Returning from a three game absence after another ankle sprain, Denzel was a key weapon on the Bulls’ offensive attack. He simply looks comfortable in an NBA offense and has total confidence in his three point stroke--even after an abysmal start to the season. He’s now made 8/16 threes in his last two games after shooting well under 30 percent overall and from deep up to that point. It would be foolish to draw definitive conclusions from two good games, but Valentine looks like he might be a solid player. He finished with 19 points in 30 minutes, both career highs.
Entering with the first wave of substitutions, Rajon Rondo instantly made clear that he was sick of riding the bench. He gave his best defensive effort of the season by swiping three steals, consistently staying on his man, and at least attempting to fight through ball screens. Offensively, Rondo looked at ease probing Washington’s leaky defense and finding an array of open Bulls shooters. He still can’t hit a jumper, but he provided a positive impact for Chicago and was part of the closing lineup. He tallied 12 points, six assists, and four rebounds in 27 minutes.
On a night ripe with opportunities for the sharpshooting wing, Doug McDermott had one of his worst games of the season. He failed to make any impact on the first half, missing all three shots and picking up three fouls in just eight minutes after earning the start. While McDermott has struggled to find open shots at times this season, he just couldn’t knock them down tonight. He finished with only four points on 2/11 shooting and 0/5 from distance, including a miss for the win at the buzzer.
Down two All-Stars and their sixth man, the Bulls had no business coming as close as they did to stealing a victory tonight. In the end, Wall and the Wizards had just enough fight in them to stave off a great effort from the Bulls. While blowing a double-digit halftime lead is surely disappointing, the locker room has to be encouraged tonight.