The Bulls' playoff run ended Tuesday night in the most appropriate way possible -- an injury that may have sealed the unfortunate fate.
After successfully turning Game 5 against Washington into an ugly defensive struggle, the Bulls were trying to find some offense in the fourth quarter when their leading playoff scorer, Taj Gibson, turned his left ankle badly while contesting a shot.
Gibson was helped to the locker room with 7:51 remaining and did not return.
Whether he could have helped is unclear, but bad injury luck has been a three-year trend for the Bulls: Three postseasons without Derrick Rose, losing Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich last year and now Gibson down the stretch of an elimination game.
The Bulls had chances to pull this one out but fell short 75-69 and dropped this first-round series 4-1. Washington won a playoff series for the first time since beating the Bulls in 2005 and for just the second time in the last 32 years. They'll face the Indiana-Atlanta winner in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"It hurts," Kirk Hinrich said. "Whenever it ends like this, they all hurt the same. It's just very abrupt. You've got to give them credit. They outplayed us in this series, obviously, and we're going home."
After trailing 61-52 heading into the fourth quarter, the Bulls closed within 3 points three times down the stretch. They had the ball down by 3 a few times. Once, Carlos Boozer had the ball poked away by John Wall.
Later, the Bulls got the defensive stops they needed, but the Wizards took more than a minute off the clock when center Marcin Gortat either grabbed or tipped back three straight offensive rebounds.
Would Gibson have helped? We'll never know.
Eventually, the Bulls got the ball with just less than a minute left, but Boozer missed a driving attempt. After forcing a shot-clock violation, the Bulls tried a quick-hitter to Jimmy Butler and he missed from close range.
Washington's Andre Miller missed a pair of free throws, but Nene got away with shoving Joakim Noah and tipped another offensive rebound to a teammate. A free throw put the Wizards up by 4 with 14.6 seconds left and that was the end.
"The season's over and it hurts," Noah said. "At the end of the day, I'm proud of this team. I'm proud of the way we competed all year.
"Right now, it's tough because we just lost. It's always frustrating. We gave it our all. Disappointed. You look back and wish there were things you could have done better.
When it's all said and done, this Bulls team turned in an impressive regular season but wasn't built for the playoffs. With no go-to player and limited offensive talent, they might have lost to any opponent they drew in the first round.
The Bulls faced another uphill battle after falling behind by 12 points in the second quarter. They tied the score at halftime, but their last lead was 46-45 early in the third quarter.
"It's real disappointing. We put so much work into the season, came out of countless holes. I'm (ticked)," Gibson said. "That's why you have to start the game of the right way. A lot of times, we were digging ourselves out of 15-point, 10-point leads, trying to fight back.
"Come the fourth quarter, you've got no energy. You're running on fumes. Every game we played this series, we were always fighting back. We never once had the lead in the first quarter.
"That's not our style of basketball, and it's frustrating, because we really work hard in practice. We work hard on walk-through, and I'm (ticked).
"We really had a hard season, guys put in a lot of effort. You want to get rewarded when you put in a lot of effort."