All-Star John Wall pumped his fists, pounded his chest and yelled at the United Center crowd all throughout the fourth quarter, as his Washington Wizards completed a total dominating performance against the rival Chicago Bulls.
Despite being shorthanded, the Wizards took full advantage of their circumstances with shooting guard Bradley Beal out and center Marcin Gortat a late scratch with a knee injury.
Or more glaringly, they took advantage of a Bulls defense that had been showing noticeable signs of slippage in the past several games, slippage that had been overshadowed by an improving offensive awareness.
A Wall-to-Wall showing from the Wizards culminated in a 114-100 win Monday night, as the Bulls must’ve been eager for their fans to get home for the college football national title game, because the sellout crowd made its way out of the building nearly halfway through the fourth quarter.
They played from behind from the start, and couldn’t sustain a recovery. They pulled to 89-85 with 9:34 left, but three minutes later a bevy of turnovers and missed opportunities led to a 13-point spread.
“They continued on (defensive issues). Again, we didn’t come out the gate with the energy we needed to. It’s beyond me how that can happen,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s consecutive games, we go on a nice win streak. We hit a little adversity, put our heads down and lose our fight.”
Hoiberg and the rest of the Bulls were in agreement: the communication broke down, leading to an opponent scoring over 100 for the fourth time in five games.
“The guys on the bench talked more than the guys on the floor, for whatever reason,” Hoiberg said. “That’s huge focus going into every game and two games in a row we hadn’t done the job.”
Wall scored 17 with 10 assists and five rebounds, one of seven Wizards who scored in double figures. All 10 Wizards who played scored and all could claim a tangible piece of the dead carcass that was the Bulls, in what should’ve been an energetic start to a four-game in five-night stretch.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Instead, even with Joakim Noah returning from a nine-game shoulder-injury absence, he went scoreless in his seven shots during 19 minutes of run—which seemed to go right along with the rest of his team.
If not for Derrick Rose’s 23 points, the game would’ve gotten ugly quicker than it did, as the Wizards had a 15-point lead midway through the second quarter and after weathering a couple meager runs in the third and start of the fourth, pulled away quite easily to put it away with six minutes remaining.
Garrett Temple scored 14 and did an admirable job guarding Jimmy Butler, who struggled to score 19 points with seven assists. Butler committed a couple early turnovers while the Bulls fell behind in the first and was unable to catch a rhythm.
With the disadvantages presented by the Wizards, not even a 40-point night may not have done the trick, as the Bulls shot 42 percent and committed 16 turnovers, while giving up 60 first-half points for the fourth time in five games.
“You can see it, teams are doing whatever they want to do on the floor,” Butler said. “We’re not doing what we’re supposed to do coverage-wise. We’re not talking like we’re supposed to be talking. You can tell. We’re not the tougher, more physical team.”
It was a bad matchup for anybody in the frontcourt, as the Wizards set the Bulls up by spreading them out and then picking them apart, piece-by-piece. Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson were chasing around the likes of swingman-by-trade Otto Porter Jr. and Jared Dudley, far outside of their respective comfort zones.
It opened up the floor for more than drives to the basket, like open shots on the perimeter and open space on the Wizards’ offensive glass as they got every loose ball, resulting in 19 second-chance points.
Drew Gooden came off the bench to give the Bulls fits with 12 points and 10 rebounds, hitting open shots and retrieving more than his share of boards that should’ve belonged to the Bulls.
Mirotic, Gibson and Pau Gasol struggled with the Wizards’ speed, just like the Bulls did against the Atlanta Hawks over the weekend. Gasol scored 15 with 10 rebounds, but was often caught flat-footed on the glass and on defense for most of the night.
And it sends the Bulls, once a team that seemed like it righted itself a week ago, back to the drawing board as they play a crucial stretch away from home.
“If you wanna be a top team, you wanna be a contender, you can’t afford (this),” Gasol said. “Championship teams don’t do this, bottom line.”