Taj Gibson put his head into his hands in frustration, as a simple pass to Doug McDermott went into the hands of the expensive season-ticket holders, another unforced turnover.
A couple possessions earlier, Robin Lopez and Jimmy Butler couldn’t connect on a simple no-pressure connection, giving the appearance the Bulls just weren’t take the night seriously.
That was the case for the better part of 24 minutes. The next 12 minutes of hard work or perhaps competence pushed the Bulls to a 106-95 win over the shorthanded Washington Wizards Saturday night.
Even though a game is 48 minutes, 12 efficient ones from the Bulls sufficed to give them their second straight victory, pushing their record to 6-4 before heading out west.
They held the Wizards to 24 percent shooting and gave up just 14 points after allowing nearly 60 in one half of basketball.
“That’s the one thing we need to keep building on,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought we fell out of our defense a little bit, but then we got it back.”
“The third quarter defense is what won us the game. We came out with a great mentality and got some stops.”
Butler, a viewer of this Bulls’ horror movie more times than he’d care to admit over the last year, games where his team had inexcusable losses against teams who had no business being in the same gym as them, changed the narrative for a night.
He was perfect from the field in the third, scoring 14 of his game-high 37 points to go along with nine assists and eight rebounds. For a period in the second half, he was buzzing on defense, getting deflections against Wizards guard Trey Burke on his way to three steals.
“If he has it going on, we find a way to put the ball in his hands,” Hoiberg said.
And when the fourth quarter saw the Bulls get a little bit tight, Butler re-entered at the 8:23 mark and a once 15-point lead was whittled to seven.
So Butler went to work with a three-point play, a steal and then another bucket in a one-minute span to help give the Bulls necessary breathing room.
“He is leading us,” said Dwyane Wade, who scored 14 on 5 of 17 shooting, as the Bulls shot 40 percent. “He’s doing what me and (Rajon) Rondo came for him to do, to really turn him into a premier player in this league. He really guides us.”
The Wizards were without John Wall and Bradley Beal, their starting backcourt, putting unknowns in their place named Sheldon McClellan and Tomas Satoransky, who barely had 10 minutes of playing experience between them, let alone anything else.
Satoransky helped the Wizards get off to a good start and helped Markieff Morris get off, as the Bulls couldn’t contain him for the first half. Morris scored 24 with 15 boards as Satoransky scored 12 with nine assists, with a team-high plus-13.
The stage was set for a Bulls letdown and they nearly lived up to it, in their last game before their six-game circus trip begins next week in Portland.
Marcin Gortat began moving Robin Lopez around and scoring inside, finishing with 18 points and 14 rebounds on nine of 12 shooting.
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The Wizards actually led 56-46 with a minute to go in the first half before a quick Butler surge pulled the Bulls to within three, with him hitting a buzzer-beating jumper to give him 21.
Nikola Mirotic, someone who needed a game in the worst way, came up big with 17 points and 11 rebounds, hitting three triples and in the absence of Doug McDermott, who left in the third due to entering concussion protocol, will be needed even more for the foreseeable future.
“You can see the stress in his face,” Hoiberg said. “I told him to just go out there and have gun. He did that, he hit a big three for us.”
No matter if it was a team looked like it was playing three games in four nights, the Bulls looked like the bunch that gave away games it shouldn’t have with a sluggish performance last year, and barely shot over 40 percent for the night.
Without Wall and Beal the Wizards were missing 38 percent of their scoring, and considering the Wizards are 25th in that department, one would think it meant good news for the Bulls.
But they allowed Morris to run wild on them early, hitting six of his first seven shots before their bench gave up the lead.
The Bulls came out like a determined team in the third, outscoring the Wizards 28-14 and kept pace for the final 12 to give themselves some good enough vibes before heading out west for the next two weeks.