"It's pretty much started to be the same thing over and over again," Taj Gibson said afterward. "They come out and hit us first. ... I've been saying it's going to be a 15-round slugfest, but we gotta swing first, especially on the road. [Instead,] we were on our heels from the jump. It comes down to will and determination. They didn't have Nene and played harder.
"We were too relaxed. We gotta step on their necks right away. But they just jumped on us."
It's part of a new Wizards formula that makes them a better team than the Bulls now. The regular-season Wizards had little regard for the ball and could lose anytime to anybody; the postseason version has come to the point where it understands possession is everything. Six turnovers. So even when the Wizards missed 14 of 15 shots at one point in the fourth quarter, letting the Bulls cut the deficit from 20 to 10, the Wizards didn't compound the problem by throwing the ball away. Being so good with the ball enabled the big, early lead to hold up, which is where Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau started and finished his postgame analysis.
"The disappointing thing," he said, "was the start ... to get in that hole. You expend a lot of energy trying to get out of it.
"You get down 14-0, you're quickly giving them great confidence. That's the biggest thing right there."
There's no disagreeing with Thibs on this point. The Bulls are a team with terribly little margin for error. A win in Game 2 might have reinforced in the Wizards' minds that they're largely playoff neophytes; certainly they wouldn't have gained any confidence from a series-opening loss. But the Bulls, unable to hold that 13-point third-quarter lead, allowed the Wizards to start gaining confidence, and that doubled when they blew a 10-point lead in the final seven minutes of Game 2.
So now a Wizards team already more physically talented even without Nene absolutely believes it'll win this series and plays like it, possession by possession.
What is Hinrich, bless his heart, supposed to do at 33 years of age against the likes of Wall and Beal, a pair of perennial All-Stars in the making? Hinrich, at this point of his career, should be an off-the-bench ace, which is actually what he signed up to be, behind Derrick Rose. And Augustin, remember, was out of the league, the guy sitting by the phone waiting for a call. The Bulls are dependent on them in this series, dependent on them getting the best of a couple of young studs, and it's not going to happen.
No matter how good a coach Thibs is, the NBA is a players league. And what this series reminds us is that the Bulls aren't good enough, not without Rose and Luol Deng, not without Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. They don't have the firepower or the kind of open-court defenders (besides Jimmy Butler) to win these games. Even though the Wizards shot just 41 percent Sunday, they still scored 98 points.
So, it's all grinding to a halt. The Bulls need a Wizards meltdown or an afternoon of absentmindedness to win the next two games and force a Game 7. If the two sides play evenly, the Wizards will win. They'll find some four-minute period in which the score goes 14-0 and they grab control of the game, the way they did in Games 1 and 2 and 4.