The Chicago Bulls are going to have do what they've done all season long—show some resiliency.
They lost Derrick Rose and Luol Deng and still finished with the East's fourth-best record. Now, after letting a fourth-quarter lead slip away during the Washington Wizards' 101-99 overtime win on Tuesday night, they face a 2-0 series deficit and must claw their way back on the road.
Bradley Beal led the way for the Wizards with 26 points, including seven in a row late in the fourth quarter to force overtime, while John Wall chipped in 16 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals, and Nene (17 points) scored six quick ones in the extra period to earn the win.
A guy who knows a thing or two about backcourt play was quick to compliment the Wizards' young duo:
Beal & Wall have taken a huge step forward. They're gonna be trouble in the East for years to come— Gary Payton (@GaryPayton_20) April 23, 2014
D.J. Augustin (25 points, seven assists) and Taj Gibson (22 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) appeared to be the saviors for the Bulls, who erased an early 17-point deficit and looked on their way to evening the series, but a late offensive collapse took the game to overtime and Kirk Hinrich missed late free throws to put them in what could be an insurmountable hole.
Joakim Noah, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds, came to Hinrich's defense after the game, via the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson:
Noah: "I love Kirk to death. He’s one of the best teammates I ever had, college or pros. That’s our captain. I got his back 150 percent."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 23, 2014
If you ever wanted to make the argument that momentum carries from game to game, this would be a prime example. After outscoring the Bulls, 30-18, in the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Wiz jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead on Tuesday, eventually stretching the advantage to 17 points in the opening 10 minutes.
Wall and Beal, who were kept surprisingly quiet in the opener, were at the forefront of Washington's initial run. The dynamic backcourt duo poured in 17 of the team's 31 first-quarter points,
ESPN's Nick Friedell summed up the early action:
Wizards up 15-6 early. No way the Bulls were going to slow down Beal and Wall like Game 1. Beal already has 7 points. Wiz setting the tone.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 23, 2014
A move to his bench paid off massively for Tom Thibodeau, though, as Gibson and Augustin provided major sparks off the pine. Gibson, who entered for Carlos Boozer, had 13 points and four rebounds in the second quarter, while Augustin, replacing Mike Dunleavy, chipped in 14 points in the final 14 minutes of the half.
Their energy off the bench helped Chicago to climb back within one before a mini run by Wall extended the Wizards lead back to 56-49 at halftime.
Although Chicago did a wonderful job of eliminating an early deficit, the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson was worried about the team's defensive output:
56 points on 53.7 percent shooting. Win or lose, Bulls' defensive issues against talented Wizards team remain.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 23, 2014
The Bulls were clearly reading Johnson's timeline in the locker room, though, because they put forth their best defensive quarter of the series in the third.
Wall and Beal combined to go 1-of-4 for two points and two turnovers, as the Wizards scored just 14 points in the third quarter.
Augustin continued to pour it on at the other end, and after a Dunleavy jumper gave Chicago its first lead of the quarter at the 5:05 mark, the Bulls built their lead to 75-70 heading into the final quarter.
Friedell pointed to Gibson's energy as the reason for the turnaround:
Augustin hitting jumpers has been huge, but Taj Gibson has been the most important player for Bulls tonight. They're feeding off his energy.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 23, 2014
The fifth-year burgeoning star played the entire fourth quarter and continued to eat up the paint, but there was nothing he and his teammates could do to stop Beal, who showed no signs of inexperience, leading the Wizards to overtime.
Randy Wittman, via the team's Twitter feed, put it simply after the game:
"Brad made some big plays for us coming down the stretch" - Coach Wittman speaking w/the press following tonight's W pic.twitter.com/AKrmhtBEO9— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) April 23, 2014
Still, as the Bulls radio producer Jeff Mangurten noted, history favored the home team in overtime:
Bulls are 4-0 in overtime Playoff games at the United Center.— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) April 23, 2014
That didn't prove to be the case, though, as Nene scored six consecutive points to start overtime, and after the Bulls climbed back into it, Hinrich missed a free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining to seal the win for Washington.
Props to the Washington Wizards. Incredible.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 23, 2014
It would be hard to imagine a better situation for the Wizards. John Wall has yet to be at his best for a complete game, but they still head home with a two-game series lead.
If there's any team that shouldn't be written off in this particular scenario, it's Thibodeau's Bulls, but it's going to take something special to turn this series around.
The Bulls have to find whatever that may be beginning with Game 3 on Friday.