WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Bulls miss Derrick Rose and Luol Deng every night, but Friday night's fourth-quarter meltdown against the Washington Wizards underscores what both brought most to Tom Thibodeau's team, especially Rose.
When the Bulls needed to make a play, needed a quick bucket or simply needed somewhere to turn -- nobody answered the call. The Bulls scored just two points in the final 5 minutes, 17 seconds of regulation, a fact epitomized by the last play of the game in which Mike Dunleavy couldn't get a clean look at the basket and then Jimmy Butler dribbled around until getting stuffed by Nene at the buzzer. In true Bulls fashion, Thibodeau's players blamed their defense for the lack of offensive execution.
"We didn't play defense the way we're capable of," Butler said. "And I think that led to everything else. When we don't guard the way we're supposed to, our offense doesn't go the way it's supposed to."
Butler's point is valid, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The thing the Bulls are missing the most, and have been for several years without Rose, is a shot creator. Nate Robinson filled that role at times last season, but this year's group is more dependent than ever on executing offensive sets. Rose, and to a lesser extent, Deng served as offensive safety nets for Thibodeau. When the Bulls needed a basket, the veteran coach would inevitably call one of their numbers.
The problem for the Bulls now is that when the game slows down in the waning minutes and it becomes more of a half-court, one-on-one game, they still aren't sure where to go. Their mistakes earlier in the game become even more prominent because Chicago has such a finite margin of error against better competition.
"The biggest problem was our turnovers," Thibodeau said. "The 15 turnovers turn into 25 points. That's hard to overcome ... so if you're turning the ball over, now you're putting them in the open floor, so now you're making it hard on yourself. Fifteen turnovers [turning into] 25 points, you're beating yourself. The rebounding wasn't very good today, either."
Thibodeau and his players can turn the numbers whichever way they please, but the reality is that without shot creators, nights like Friday will continue to pop up throughout the season. The Bulls put more of the blame on their defense, but it's the offense that remains the largest bugaboo.
"It's a little bit of everything," Dunleavy said. "But we're getting beat in transition a lot. That's a little bit of a concern. Just basic mistakes we're making, just simple stuff that we just got to clean up. We haven't had much practice time the last couple weeks, the last 10 days, and we're probably not going to moving forward, so we're going to improve without doing that. We're capable of it, we just have to hone in a little more."
Dunleavy was referencing his team's lackluster defense on this night, but he could have just as easily been talking about the end of the floor that continues to give the Bulls the most problems.