Our newest contributor at WARR, Michael Walton II, is following the Chicago Bulls and the NBA throughout this playoff season.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and burgeoning high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
Because of the pressure and the unwavering attention we place on professional athletes, it is easy to forget that they are human and that they can be human at some of the most inopportune times.
The scream that was elicited from me when I saw Kirk Hinrich miss the layup late in overtime — one that could’ve led to a potential game-winning three-point play in a 101-99 loss to Washington — was completely natural in that particular moment, as natural as any blood-curdling sound could be. But composure was mine when the veteran guard was awarded two free throws for his effort. These two shots could only be a mere formality as we trudge to a second overtime.
Then he missed the first free throw.
Chicago Bulls fans everywhere were overcome with disappointment. Twitter exploded with heinous overreactions, making it easy to see the unfortunate storm of criticism heading Captain Kirk’s way. It is true in basketball that one person can win a game, but one person CAN NOT lose a game. Without a time machine at our disposal, we as a people have to face the fact that as improbable as it is, the Bulls lost the first two games in a series it held home court advantage in. But there is still reason to believe. Let’s look at how the Bulls got themselves into this predicament and how the Wizards forced it.
MVP: Bradley Beal was the player that worried me most coming into this series. I figured the Bulls would have a fighting chance of containing him because Thibs would continue to use his strategy of packing the paint, daring the Wizards to shoot the typically less-effective mid-range jumper consistently. But Beal feasts on the mid-range more than the average player today and he did just that in Game 2.
Beal scored 26 points while hitting 4-of-5 3-point attempts. In a reverse of Game 1, the Wiz allowed the Bulls to claw back into a game they controlled. More like Game 1, Tuesday’s performance made its defining turn while the Bulls nursed a 10-point lead in the fourth and Beal really turned it on. His scoring prowess allowed him to score eight of Washington’s last 10 points in the fourth quarter, showcasing exactly the kind of game-changing scoring punch that Chicago was missing.
X-Factor(s): Couldn’t choose just one guy here. The Wizards have made a habit out of getting big surprise contributions from their veterans and Game 2 was no different. Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster were each instrumental in the Wizards victory. Webster provided a nice scoring spark off the bench, his 10 points weren’t eye-popping, but they were efficient (4-of-6 from the field) and provided additional floor-spacing in which his co-conspirators worked well.
Webster did have a -7 plus/minus rating, souring his evening for the kind of guy who looks at such things (sorry). This allowed me to include Ariza in this section, though, he led the Wizards with a +12 rating. Ariza’s solid outside shooting and stellar defense often go unnoticed, but I had to give him some credit on this night. Ariza didn’t have an impressive stat line, but he hounded DJ Augustin for most of the night, a night where Augustin intended to make his first impact on this series. Ariza’s versatility and strong defensive presence has quietly been crucial for the Wiz.
Silver Lining for Bulls: It was a lot harder to find a silver lining in this one than in Game 1. The Bulls have some legitimate concerns going forward. The Wizards shot 57 percent from the free throw line (compared to 75% for the Bulls) and still won the game. The Bulls’ offensive woes are very disheartening, but they did show progress.
Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson each had 20/10 games, Noah with a team-high 12 rebounds and Gibson with a stellar 22-point effort. The Bulls are a frontcourt-oriented team so the fact that they outscored the Wizards 44-22 in the paint is encouraging. DJ Augustin rebounded with a 25-point effort, although it took him 22 shots to get there. Without Derrick Rose the Bulls have to get some better offensive play out its backcourt. Its the most obvious thing in all the NBA playoffs now — the Bulls NEED scoring.
Game 3 is on for Friday in Washington. For a team that struggles to score as much as the Bulls, going down 3-0 in a playoff series is, in short, a death sentence. All we can hope for is more adjustments from Thibodeau, but he is starting to look more like a coach who is unable (or unwilling?) to adapt. And this series has shown that refusing to change can become your downfall.
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