WASHINGTON -- All those people who thought the Wizards couldn't beat the Bulls without the suspended Nene, well, the guys in red seemed to be right along with them Sunday afternoon.
The Bulls started the game as though they expected an easy win, while Washington played the way a desperate, short-handed team should. The Wizards jumped out to a 14-0 lead and cruised to a 98-89 victory at the Verizon Center.
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The Bulls trail this first-round series 3-1 and need to win Tuesday's Game 5 at the United Center or the season will be over. In team history, the Bulls have never won a playoff series after trailing 3-1.
"The Wizards have a lot of weapons," Joakim Noah said. "That being said, I think they're beatable. We've just got to find a way."
Taj Gibson stepped up for the Bulls, scoring a career-high 32 points while hitting 13 of 16 shots from the field. But it was the time that Gibson watched from the bench early in the first quarter that killed the Bulls.
The visitors missed their first 6 shots and added a couple of turnovers before Jimmy Butler finally drained a 17-footer with 7:48 left in the opening quarter to make it 14-2. Washington's lead eventually reached 19-4 before the Bulls started chipping away.
"I felt like we were too relaxed," Gibson said. "In this league, you can't get relaxed. Just because one of their starters is out, you've got to just come out and have that dog mentality, kind of step on their neck right away."
Playing without Nene wasn't much of a problem for the Wizards, since they played 21 games without him late in the regular season because of an injury. It might have helped, since Nene can be a ball-stopper at times and didn't shoot well in Friday's Game 3.
"They just jumped on us. We were on our heels from the jump, and it's so frustrating to watch," Gibson added. "We had a great shootaround. We had a great practice. Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) told us what was going to happen. But we've just got to do better. It's really frustrating right now."
Gibson helped plug the leaks, scoring 8 points in his first five possessions after checking in late in the first quarter. The Bulls drew 2 early fouls on both Wizards starting big men, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Booker, which gave the Bulls a nice opening, because Washington had to turn to Drew Gooden and Al Harrington inside.
The Bulls closed within 34-30 after Kirk Hinrich's jumper with 7:08 left in the second quarter, and everything seemed to be OK. But when Washington's starters returned to the floor, they went on another run and led 55-40 at halftime, thanks to a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Trevor Ariza (30 points).
Mike Dunleavy, who scored 35 points in Game 3, barely touched the ball in the first half. At intermission, Carlos Boozer had 2 points, while Dunleavy and D.J. Augustin scored zero.
"Look, it was tough getting shots off the other night," Dunleavy said. "It's been tough all series. They've done a good job."
Early in the third quarter, the Bulls knocked down 7 of 8 shots but couldn't get the deficit past 10 points. Washington shifted into high gear again and headed into the fourth quarter with an 82-62 advantage. Gibson led a fourth-quarter charge, but the closest it got was 91-83 with two minutes left.
By the end of the game, the Bulls had more rebounds (42-38) and a better field-goal percentage (.449 to .407). Turnovers were a big problem, though. The Bulls' 16 giveaways led to 29 Washington points, and the Wizards finished with a 16-2 edge in fastbreak points.
"You can't put it on any one guy," Thibodeau said. "It's our team. Readiness to play is me. They have to do their job. They have to get out there, they have to execute. I've got to have them ready, and so that's disappointing and it's got to change. It's got to change or our season will be over."