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.
The Chicago Bulls’ offensive woes against the Washington Wizards were never more apparent than when they went down 14-0 to start Game 4 of their first round series Sunday afternoon.
At that point it looked like the game was completely out of hand. But the Bulls being the Bulls, they fought back and sporadically looked competitive in its comeback effort. Still, this game should worry Bulls fans deeply.
It was very dejecting to see the pounding the Bulls took in a game in which they started with an apparent obvious advantage due to Nene not playing. What resulted was the most compelling evidence so far that the Bulls simply do not have what it takes to overcome Washington.
Co-MVPs: While the Bulls got thoroughly whipped, it had to make fans happy to see Taj Gibson have such a great game. He is the winner of my inaugural “Marcin Gortat: I’m a Grown Ass Man” Award.
Gibson showed all the things that make him an important piece moving forward for his franchise. He hit 13-of-16 shots while also draining 85 percent of his free throws, he was a dominant force and would not be denied. Gibson’s game-high and career-high 32 points came on a lot of post-ups, in which he was able to show off his dramatic improvement in that area by victimizing Trevor Booker (or whoever else guarded him, but Booker in particular).
It was clear that with Nene out that coach Tom Thibodeau wanted to keep Gibson involved in the offense, but even he couldn’t have expected this 32-point masterpiece. Reluctantly, I have to give Trevor Ariza the other nod for MVP. Judging by his play in the first three games, the “Trevor Ariza heat check game” was coming up soon and Sunday proved to be it with his 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting (and 6-of-10 on 3-pointers).
Ariza gets a lot of open looks due to the ease in which the Wizards young, lively backcourt slithers into the lane. And when Ariza hits one he’s likely to keep stroking shots from deep until it doesn’t make sense to. Ariza tied a Wizards playoff record for threes in a game and each of them seemed to hurt the Bulls’ effort, but none more than his shot right before halftime that crushed the spirit of the Bulls heading into the locker room.
X-Factor: DJ Augustin wins my X-factor label for Game 4 because on this day it became obvious that Augustin is NOT Nate Robinson.
Augustin passed the eye test, he didn’t necessarily look terrible out there, but when you are expected to be an offensive sparkplug off the bench you can’t fail to reach double-digits in points. The Wizards’ defensive pressure has been exemplary throughout the series, its understandable how they forced Augustin into a 3-for-10 shooting night, but I can’t understand how Augustin only got the free throw line once Sunday.
Augustin was a top-five free throw shooter in the NBA this season, so when the Bulls go through scoring droughts it would seem appropriate for him to attack the rim aggressively. The Wizards’ length often makes it near-impossible for Augustin to score layups, but drawing contact is a different matter. If DJ is going to disappear like this in games then Thibs really needs to explain why Jimmer Fredette or Ronnie Brewer can’t get some playing time.
Silver Lining for Bulls: The silver lining is getting thinner and thinner as this series progresses. The Bulls will be heading back to the Madhouse on Madison for Game 5, and you can expect a raucous crowd trying to play their part in extending the team’s season, but this team is just what it is at this point, nothing more.
So in a win-or-go-home game I fully expect the Bulls to feed off of the crowd and win. They will do it for the fans, making up for their first two losing efforts at home. Nene returns, but in Game 5 Joakim Noah finally showed an ability to contain the big Brazillian. The Wizards have a variety of ways to score, but it is how efficiently they have scored that has been shocking. If the Bulls can slow down the Wizards scoring then they can win, and yes it is that simple.
Bradley Beal has been the best player in this series (18 points in the Game 4 win) and there needs to be a specific plan to curtail his scoring. This series looks like it may be a case of talent winning out above all, but you can never count out the Bulls. At the very least, Bulls fans can look forward to another possible postseason award (vote Taj Gibson for Sixth Man of the Year, writers) and a possibly adding one of the elite scorers in the league to shore up the offensive woes (Melo, indeed, is quite a catch).
Chicago is not a team that just rolls over in the face of adversity, that’s why this series should at least play out beyond Tuesday night.
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