After two losses to open their first-round playoff series with Washington, there seemed to be a universal question surrounding the Bulls:
Why can't they score in the fourth quarter?
While squandering late-game leads, the Bulls managed to score a total of 34 points in the two games and shoot 35 percent from the field during the fourth quarter.
"We've got to make our shots," coach Tom Thibodeau said after Wednesday's short practice. "We looked at our shots. I thought our screening was good. It's a make or miss league.
"When D.J. (Augustin) is pulling up for an open 3 and he misses, those are the shots he has made all year. You're not going to say, 'D.J., don't shoot that.' Kirk (Hinrich) comes off a double screen on the weak side wide open. He has made that shot all year. He has been a big shotmaker from 3 all year in the fourth quarter.
"They have their shots, I want them taking them. No hesitation. Shoot the ball."
There's really no mystery to why the Bulls are struggling against the Wizards. Just look at the players on the floor.
Washington's starting backcourt includes No. 1 and No. 3 overall draft picks. John Wall can get his shot anytime he wants, and Bradley Beal is a prototype tall, athletic shooting guard.
At the same time, when Nene is on the floor, the Wizards can dump the ball into the post to a guy who can just lean back and knock down jumpers. They also have fairly reliable 3-point shooters in Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster.
The Bulls don't have any of that. One area where the Bulls have an edge on Washington is bench scoring. Imagine if Wizards coach Randy Wittman was counting on Andre Miller to win the game in the fourth quarter, then he'd understand what Thibodeau is up against.
Former Bulls guard Steve Kerr didn't mince words during Tuesday's TNT broadcast.
"What's fairly obvious is that Washington is a much more talented team," Kerr said. "They are faster, more skilled and shoot the ball better.
"With Chicago it has to be about energy … getting the loose balls. Rarely are they the more skilled team on the floor. It is going to come down to will and effort."
Will and effort worked well for the Bulls in the regular season, but every team turns up the intensity in the playoffs, which means the Bulls can lose their biggest edge.
At the same time, the Bulls led Game 1 by 12 points with seven minutes left in the third quarter and built a 10-point lead in Game 2 with 6:59 left in the fourth. It wouldn't have taken much to win either of those games.
"We were like a fingernail short every time," Taj Gibson said. "Guys were diving for the balls, scrambling around. They just made some great plays. Playoff style basketball, I guess. We just said you've got to keep going harder."
"The difference between winning and losing is very small," Thibodeau added. "Beal made two big scramble 3s in the fourth quarter that were basically off loose balls. That's the difference between winning and losing."
Thibodeau was asked again about adjusting the rotation, but realistically, he doesn't have many choices. Carlos Boozer went 0 for 3 from the field in the first nine minutes of Game 2 as the Bulls fell behind 29-12. So playing Boozer in the fourth quarter instead of Gibson isn't going to help. Gibson is averaging 17 points in the two games.
Mike Dunleavy has had a couple of hot-shooting stretches, but his shot has been unreliable for most of the season.
"Whenever you say, put someone else in, you're taking someone else out," Thibodeau said. "Who you taking out? Joakim? Who you taking out? Taj? Everyone has a job to do. Just do your job."
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