At the start of a new NBA season, there are inevitably some new rules the league wants to emphasize. So preseason games tend to feature more free throws than normal, as the referees try to force the players to adjust to the new guidelines.
Sunday was Game 1 of the playoffs, but felt at times like the preseason.
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The first half featured an astonishing 38 free throw attempts. Both teams were hurt and helped by the development, but by the end of the night, Washington had gone 26 of 35 from the line, the second-most free throw attempts by a Bulls opponent all season. The highest was 37 by Sacramento on March 15.
"You have to adjust to how the game is being called," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We can't allow it to take away our aggressiveness. We have to play hard without fouling. We have to be disciplined. Offensively, if we think a call's not going our way, we can't allow that to take away from getting back and playing great defense."
After all the fouls in the first half, the Bulls seemed to get the most frustrated in the third quarter when the two teams went to the foul line twice each. Kirk Hinrich was given a technical foul at the 5:12 mark of the third quarter when the teams headed into a time out and he wouldn't stop complaining about the lack of a call on a couple drives to the basket.
That was also a stretch when the Bulls briefly built a 13-point lead, then watched it evaporate quickly.
"I didn't have a problem with the officials. It was the same for both sides," Thibodeau said. "We're not going to put it on them. We're going to bounce back. We're going to study and get ourselves ready to play better."
Hinrich picked up 2 early fouls and had to go to the bench at the five-minute mark of the first quarter. Washington held a 9-1 edge in free-throw attempts in the first quarter, then the Bulls fouled themselves into the penalty in just 2½ minutes in the second quarter.
The home fans groaned, but the Wizards quickly put the Bulls into the bonus and by halftime, the Bulls were 14-for-17 at the foul line. Late in the game, Washington's top scorer, Nene, fouled out. The Bulls didn't have any serious foul trouble beyond Hinrich in the first quarter.