CHICAGO — With the game and perhaps the Bulls’ season on the line against the Wizards on Tuesday night at the United Center, guard Kirk Hinrich took the ball to the basket on the final possession of a 101-99 overtime loss.
That alone summed up the biggest problem this Bulls team cannot overcome. The most qualified player to take a big shot in the playoffs to bring the Bulls closer to a championship is either wearing a suit on the bench or beginning his offseason in New York. But without Derrick Rose or Carmelo Anthony to save the day the way superstars do, the best the Bulls thought they could do was Hinrich, who wasn’t even the best option on the floor.
Still, Hinrich penetrated, drew a foul on Nene with 2.4 seconds left and the 80 percent career free-throw shooter went to the line down two with a chance to tie the game. His first attempt clanked off the back of the rim, making the second one as irrelevant as any positives that happened as the Bulls fell behind 2-0 in the series.
“I was a little shocked he missed,” Taj Gibson said. “But he’s human. If that happens any other time, I’d still go with Kirk.”
Blind loyalty is cute, but Hinrich missing a free throw didn’t lose this game as much as the Bulls missing the point down the stretch did.
Hinrich had missed four key shots in a 3-minute span. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Kirk. As difficult as D.J. Augustin was to stop, as tired as Hinrich appeared, the shot selection during the most critical possessions defied logic. Coach Tom Thibodeau explained that the final play had three options but Hinrich really should have been the fourth one.
“Tonight, I just couldn’t do it,” Hinrich said. “I really felt that I should have made the layup.”
Truth is, he never should have been the one taking it, but the only thing worse than the Bulls’ judgment in a tight game was the officiating. With the score tied at 91 with 10.5 seconds left in regulation, Gibson clearly had possession on the floor and asked for a timeout, but officials called jump ball and deprived the Bulls a chance to win.
“I said ‘Timeout’ three times,” Gibson said.
Then on the jump ball, Nene got away with grabbing Gibson’s arm without having a foul called.
“Heads up,” Gibson said. “We’ve got to come back.”
A night that ended with pain and regret began with pomp and circumstance. With a handshake instead of a finger wag, former NBA center Dikembe Mutombo presented Joakim Noah with the Defensive Player of the Year award before tipoff. Noah triumphantly raised the trophy over his head at midcourt, smiled from ear to ear and soaked in the applause showered on him from the crowd of 21,663.
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