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Bulls fall short when it matters in Game 1

Updated: April 21, 2014 11:11AM



The Bulls never thought their first-round playoff series was supposed to be about the Washington Wizards.

In their minds, they controlled their own destiny the same way they had since it seemed as though the bottom would fall out on the season when Luol Deng was traded. They would dictate the edge and intensity.

‘‘We know what we’re capable of, so we can only worry about the Chicago Bulls,’’ swingman Jimmy Butler said hours before Game 1.

Well, they might want to start worrying about the Wizards.

Thanks to 24 points from Nene and a 45-39 rebounding edge, the Wizards walked into the United Center and strutted out with a 102-93 victory Sunday.

Even more disappointing than the final score and the Bulls’ poor offensive showing was that they came up a bit soft. That’s blasphemy for a team coached by Tom Thibodeau, but it was a problem in the playoff opener.

A team that counts on intensity like a heartbeat had very little.

‘‘We just didn’t come out and compete with them,’’ said guard D.J. Augustin, who joined Kirk Hinrich in scoring a team-high 16 points for the Bulls. ‘‘They scored easy baskets, and we’ve just got to do a better job.’’

When he was asked if he was surprised by how little intensity the Bulls had, Augustin responded: ‘‘Yeah, a little bit, but they’re a good team. You can’t take anything away from them. Like I said, we’ve just got to do a better job the next game.’’

At least a better job of finishing what they started.

The Bulls took a 54-48 lead into the locker room at halftime, aided immensely by the Wizards’ 12-for-21 shooting from the free-throw line, then opened the third quarter with a 10-3 run. Mike Dunleavy scored eight points in the burst, and the Bulls led by 13 with just more than 10 minutes left in the third.

‘‘We know what we did wrong,’’ backup big man Taj Gibson said. ‘‘We just let up on the gas. You can’t let up on the gas. We worked so hard to get a lead from a good team . . . and it hurts because we had a chance to put them away.’’

That chance slowly started slipping away. By the end of the third, the Bulls were clinging to a three-point lead, thanks to an offense that went into hibernation.

Things still seemed to be OK, though. The inexperienced Wizards would have to fold in the fourth, right? Wrong. Veteran Andre Miller, 38, scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth by taking advantage of Augustin’s defensive weaknesses.

‘‘A lot, a lot,’’ Thibodeau said when asked how much Miller hurt the Bulls. ‘‘Their veterans played very well for them.’’

Meanwhile, the Bulls shot 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) and were outrebounded 13-6 in the fourth. Soft in every way.

‘‘That’s playoff basketball, so you have to make your corrections quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘You have to get your edge. You have to be ready to go. We have to study. We have to play better.’’

First and foremost, the Bulls had better realize they were punched in the face and identify who did it.

‘‘Yeah, they’re good,’’ Butler said of the Wizards. ‘‘You can’t sleep on them. We’ve got to be able to bounce back Tuesday. We’ll be fine. It’s one game. It’s a long series.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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