The tension and frustration was evident as Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler emerged from the showers after an inexcusable collapse against the Atlanta Hawks.
They were 3 minutes away from getting back over that elusive .500 mark, three minutes away from sending the Chicago hopefuls home with some good feelings as the two stars combined for 73 points as Butler scored 40 and Wade notched 30 for the third time in four games.
But 90 seconds turned those Cinderella dreams into a terrible, ugly pumpkin.
The Atlanta Hawks continued their mystifying mastery of the Bulls with a 119-114 win at the United Center, their sixth straight win, courtesy of a 19-4 run over the final minutes.
It was capitalized after the Hawks took a 114-112 lead, leaving the Bulls with two great options coming out of the timeout: Wade, who was hot. And Butler, who was scorching.
The two literally played horse to extend a 95-91 lead to 110-100 with an array of jumpers, 3-point plays and even a four-point play from Butler, sending the Hawks scrambling for a timeout with 3 minutes left before they regrouped to tie the game, then take the lead.
Apparently the memo didn't make it to Nikola Mirotic, who fearlessly took a triple after Wade kicked it to him on a baseline drive, firing up an errant triple that looked terrible from the moment it left his hands.
"I understand that if you've got an open shot take it," Butler said. "But at a point in the game like that, no offense but you gotta get the ball to your best players. That's just how the game goes. Let it come down on my shoulders or D-Wade's shoulders. Let us be the reason why."
Wade's frustration was felt before Butler spoke to the media, sounding very much like the veteran player who's utterly disgusted and shocked at the state of affairs.
"I don't know what happened, but you continue to be in these kinds of situations and lose games like this, you really don't care enough," Wade said. "You don't care enough. It's got to mean that much to you to want to win. And it doesn't. So I don't know. I don't know happened. I don't know how you fix it. It just doesn't mean enough for guys around here to want to win ball games.
"It pisses me off, but I can't be frustrated and I can't care too much for these guys. They got to care for themselves. We got to do better."
Wade has been the sage, encouraging and experienced star but he brought fire and brimstone after the game, probably as frustrated with Wednesday's result as he is with the season to date.
Count this loss to the Hawks as probably the most upsetting, but it can be added to a ledger of several—especially as the Bulls find themselves right in the middle of an Eastern Conference muck they seem unable to emerge from, mired in mediocrity.
"I heard what D-(Wade) was over there saying, yeah," Butler said. "Mother------- just got to care if we win or lose. At the end of the day, do whatever it takes to help the team win. You play your role to the tee. Be a star in your role, man." "That's how you win in this league, man. You have to embrace what this team, what this organization needs for you to do on either end of the floor. On top of everything else, just play every possession like it's your last. We don't play hard all the time. It's very disappointing whenever we don't play hard."
It has Wade questioning his teammates' desire to win as opposed to showing up and collecting a check every two weeks. It's a storm that's been brewing and finally, Mount Wade exploded.
"I wish I could say that everyone in here is going to go home and not eat tonight," Wade said. "I can't say that. I wish I could, but I don't know that they care enough. Games are supposed to hurt. You're not supposed to sleep, you're not supposed to want to talk to anybody. These games are supposed to hurt. I don't know if that is in guys in this locker room."
His challenge was certainly strategic, as he's hoping to stir some kind of lasting emotion from his teammates in a critical hour.
"Hopefully they can prove me wrong, but I will challenge them to see if losses like this hurt," Wade said. "We can play bad, we can miss shots, but we're having too many of these lapses. We're having too many of these losses. This just can't be acceptable if you want to do anything besides have an NBA jersey on and make some money. That's all we're doing right now."
It didn't, although it shouldn't have come down to that possession anyways, if all parties are being honest. Three triples in succession from Paul Millsap, Dennis Scroeder and Tim Hardaway Jr cut the Bulls lead to one and as has been proven all year, when adversity hits the Bulls, it's rare they stand together to fight with savvy and verve.
Schroeder scored 24 with nine assists while Millsap scored 21 and Dwight Howard added 16 with 12 rebounds, including a late dunk when the Bulls' defense again became confused with Hawks' penetration.
The Hawks shot 52 percent and 57 from three with 29 assists on their 43 field goals.
Giving up 41 points in the fourth, 17 triples overall and several backbreaking breakdowns on defense added to the calculated statements from Wade and later, Butler.
The Bulls' schedule gets tougher as the next month approaches with a west-coast swing coming up, a period that could be make or break with the All-Star break and trade deadline not terribly far away.
Who knows it was pointed squarely at Mirotic, whom the Bulls have previously invested so much in but has consistently underwhelmed, or Doug McDermott or Bobby Portis or anyone who could help the Bulls elevate themselves with just a little bit of help.
"You guys see our lineup. There's a lot of shuffling around," Wade said. "Coach don't feel he can count on that many guys right now. That can't be.
"There are guys in this league who people don't think can play. But once they get in certain situations, once they get certain confidence, they can play. It's not about talent.
"We got young guys. Sometimes you're just happy to be here. Once the years start going by, you find yourself in your 30s and stuff like that and start looking back and wishing you did more, I don't know. I've always been a person who tries to seize the moment because tomorrow is not promised to anyone in this game. You're one wrong move away from never playing again. It has to mean that much to you."
The leaders of the Bulls have spoken, and make no mistake, their calculated message was tinged with uncontrollable emotion they could no longer hold in.
"It's not hard to figure out. But at the end of the day if you can't look at yourself in the mirror and realize it yourself, no matter how many people tell you, it ain't resonating and you don't give a damn anyway," Butler said.