Wanted: A scorer at crunch time


CHICAGO -- It's the 12 minutes that ought to drive Bulls management to extreme action in an offseason coming sooner than any of them expected.

Twelve minutes, four baskets. Twelve minutes of missed shots, turnovers, 24-second violations, confusion, ineptitude and, ultimately, a missed free throw.

Twelve minutes, the equivalent of a full quarter of basketball, and all the Bulls got, playing at home, was a hard drive to the basket by Joakim Noah, a Kirk Hinrich jumper, a Taj Gibson dunk that rattled seemingly every part of the rim and a Noah layup.

Eight minutes without a single basket for the Chicago Bulls, 12 minutes with just four. It's the blueprint for how to blow a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2, a mere 48 hours after blowing a 13-point lead late in the third quarter of Game 1.

If romancing Carmelo Anthony isn't at the top of the Bulls priority list, one would ask, why the hell not? Free agents, trades, draft picks, players stashed in Europe -- every option ought to be explored to death to avoid another season of this. Two straight games playing at home the Bulls couldn't get a basket when they needed one, and now they're halfway to summer.

The Wizards knew in their hearts this would be the case when they hustled from seventh place to fifth in the final days of the season to chase a first-round matchup with the Bulls. They knew they could smother D.J. Augustin defensively with Trevor Ariza. They knew two of the most polished offensive players the Bulls have, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, are usually affixed to the bench in the fourth quarter because of their defensive deficiencies. The Wizards knew the Bulls routinely go six minutes, eight minutes, 10 minutes without being able to score a basket.

You can defend and scrap to the heavens, and the Bulls do that as well as any team in the NBA, better than most of them. They're well coached and disciplined. But they're still only two-thirds of a team, limited and flawed when they have to play an opponent with a full deck. Goodness, nobody is saying the Bulls don't miss Luol Deng.

At 87-77 with 6:58 to play in the fourth, a team with a competent offense should be smelling a series tied at a game apiece. But Gibson, who did have a playoff career-high 22 points off the bench, missed in close. And Noah, who did make eight of 14 overall, missed. Then Noah committed an offensive foul trying to drive and kick. Gibson committed an offensive foul attempting a handoff to Augustin.

You could feel it slipping away, the Bulls falling into one of those prolonged stretches where it looks like the opponent is on a power play. Augustin missed a three, then a fadeaway. Noah committed a terrible turnover. Hinrich missed a long deuce, then another jumper. You get the picture. They were just hoping the ball up to the rim. Any way a team can blow an offensive possession, the Bulls had it covered.

See, Noah is a very worthy Defensive Player of the Year. But he still needs to play alongside a true offensive star -- a player who all by himself can come up with a basket here, free throws there and the plays that prevent a team from going scoreless for eight minutes in the fourth quarter and overtime on its home court in a playoff game.

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