The Chicago Bulls had a few things in their favor as they prepared to face the Washington Wizards in Game 4 at the Verizon Center.
- The Bulls had finally broken through with a win in Game 3 after dropping the first two games at home.
- The road team had won all three games of the series.
- Most importantly, Nene, who was averaging 17 points per game, was suspended following a physical altercation with Jimmy Butler in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
However, none of these factors came into play as the Wizards beat the Bulls 98-89 to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
Let’s take a brief look at how the Bulls came up short against the Wizards.
Another slow start dooms Bulls
In a game they absolutely had to have, the Bulls came out with no sense of urgency.
How bad of a start was it for the road team?
Well, the Bulls came up empty on their first seven possessions, which consisted of six missed shots and a pair of turnovers.
As a result, the Bulls did not record their first field goal until the 7:48 mark as the Wizards jumped out to a 19-4 lead.
Slow starts have plagued the Bulls through the first three games, and as ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell reports, Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich had this to say about the team’s first-quarter struggles against the Wizards:
"We thought the mistakes we’re making, we could correct them. But at this point we haven’t. I think they’ve been a real good first-quarter team all year, so we knew that coming into the series and we just haven’t done a good job of handling it."
Although Chicago closed within single digits multiple times, including 91-83 with less than two minutes left in the game, trailing by double digits for most of the afternoon proved to be too much for the team to overcome.
No answer for Trevor Ariza
Without Nene in the lineup, someone would have to step up for the Wizards if they had any hopes of putting Chicago’s playoff hopes on life support.
Enter Trevor Ariza.
As you know, Ariza came up big for the Wizards in their 101-99 victory in Game 2 as he held D.J. Augustin scoreless over the final 12 minutes of the contest, which resulted in the Bulls producing just four baskets during that stretch.
In this outing Ariza proved to be a capable scorer as well, torching the Bulls defense for 30 points on 10-for-17 from the field, including 6-for-10 from beyond the arc.
Ariza stated that the team wanted to take care of business after dropping Game 3.
Bulls fail to capitalize on Nene’s absence
Without Nene on the floor, the Bulls should have had the advantage inside, but Taj Gibson was the only Chicago player who consistently attacked the rim.
Gibson scored a career-high 32 points, including 20 points in the first half, while connecting on 13 of his 16 attempts.
Unfortunately, the rest of the team did not follow his lead as they combined to shoot just 22-of-62 from the floor (35.4 percent).
Per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Gibson offered his thoughts on the team’s lack-luster showing in Game 4:
"I feel like we didn’t take advantage of it. I feel like we were too relaxed. In this league you can’t be relaxed. Just because one of their starters is out, you got to just come out, you got to have that dog mentality. You got to step on their necks right away."
Simply put, the Wizards played like the team whose backs were against the wall, which is big reason they are in the driver’s seat.
Meanwhile, for the second time in three seasons, the Bulls face a 3-1 deficit in a first-round playoff series against a lower-seeded opponent.
While the Bulls will more than likely respond with a win in Game 5, it will be interesting to see if they have what it takes to win three consecutive games against a confident Wizards team.
James Tillman is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com and a sports contributor for Football Nation and Sports Kings/Pass The Pill. James is also a former Featured Sports Contributor for Yahoo! Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JTILLMAN9693.