Grand Opening, Heartbreaking Closing

Grand Opening, Heartbreaking Closing
With the Bulls missing three starters, Denzel Valentine stepped up with 19 points off of the bench in a losing effort to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night. Photo Credit: Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune

The Bulls were down three starters as they did battle with the Washington Wizards on the road Tuesday night. With Jimmy Butler (flu), Dwyane Wade (rest) and Nikola Mirotic (flu) all out of the lineup, it was up to the rest of the Bulls to step up and fill the void.

In the second of back-to-back games for the Bulls, they came out strong. Having played the Wizards twice already this season (splitting the two games) they looked early as if they had their number. The ball movement was fluid, the defense was on point and they knocked down shots.

The Bulls seemingly could not be stopped and they found themselves with an 18-point lead in the first half. A large contribution to the great start was their accuracy from deep. In the first half, the Bulls shot 8 for 10 from beyond the arc.

Through the first two quarters, the depleted Bulls got sparks from off of the bench. The most notable of all contributors was Rajon Rondo.

Rondo, who had not played in the Bulls last 5 contests, was the first man off of the bench on Tuesday night. A credit to the pick-up games he said that he participated in at a middle school gym while being benched, Rondo did not miss a beat. He knocked down a few shots in a row and set a great pace throughout the course of the game. In his 28 minutes, he finished with 12 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds.

The fun would end in the first half.

The Bulls led 61-43 with 56 seconds left in the second quarter. Washington would score the last 6 points to close things out.

From there, it was a proverbial snowball effect. The Wizards made the run that everyone at some point suspected would come against such an undermanned squad. The Wizards took the lead at 77-75 on a 3-point shot from Jason Smith in the 3rd period and the Bulls now found themselves in a fight.

After bulldozing over a team that everyone expected to run over them in the first two quarters (funny how sports work, right?) the Wizards outscored the Bulls 32-16 in the 3rd and ended the quarter on a 19-6 run.

The 4th quarter was a battle as both teams traded buckets and no one was able to sustain a decent lead. Washington was aided by 10 points from forward Markief Morris.

With just under 10 seconds remaining and the game tied at 99, the Wizards placed the ball in the hands of John Wall.

He raised up over the outstretched hand of Robin Lopez and knocked down the game winning jumper on the right side.
Wall would finish with 26 points, 14 assists and 6 rebounds.

This 101-99 loss has to definitely be a tough one to stomach given how well they played in the first half. They did come out stagnant in the third which was key to the big Washington run. The Bulls also had a series of around 8 consecutive empty possessions before Rondo knocked down a jumper to tie things at 99 late in the 4th quarter. After shooting 80% from 3-point range early, they only went 2-17 the rest of the way. Doug McDermott, who could have won the game for the Bulls with a 3-pointer, had an off night. He finished 2-11 with just 4 points in 23 minutes.

With everything that went wrong for them in the second half- and blowing an 18-point lead not being ideal- there are a ton of positives for the Bulls and their fans to take from this loss. 1. Rondo played…and played well. After being benched the last 5 games and being told it was to “save him from himself” he did his job and was praised for it after the game. Coach Fred Hoiberg said that he had “confidence” in him and said that he would be seeing more playing time in coming games. 2. The Bulls got another great game from their bench. Rondo was not alone in playing well for the second unit. Bobby Portis had a good game with 13 points and 7 rebounds. Most importantly, rookie Denzel Valentine showed that he was a good draft choice for the Bulls. In 30 minutes of play, Valentine chipped in 19 points including 5-11 from deep.

The Bulls are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 7-12 on the road so far this season. Despite how backbreaking this loss was, the only thing they can do is take their positives and keep pressing forward.

The Bulls are in New York tomorrow to take on former Bull Derrick Rose and the Knicks.

Filed under: NBA

Tags: Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards

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