CHICAGO -- They won the opening tip but lost the first quarter. What else is new?
The Bulls' sluggish start Tuesday night in Game 5 of their playoff series with the Wizards was deja vu all over again -- the fifth time they trailed after one quarter.
Kirk Hinrich called it "kind of the theme of the series."
Joakim Noah said of the Wizards after Game 4: "They've had that sense of urgency every time. It's on us to change it. We're getting punched in the mouth every time in the first quarter."
The first 12 minutes Tuesday featured some jabs, hooks and straight rights.
The Wizards outscored the Bulls 23-15. They outshot the Bulls by the remarkable margin of 52.6-26.1 percent. The only thing that saved the Bulls was ball-handling -- one turnover in 12 minutes. The Wizards had four.
The Bulls knew a strong start was essential. Just how important?
During the regular season, they went 22-0 in home games when they led after one. They went 4-14 when trailing and were 1-0 when tied.
True to form, the Bulls could not rally, stumbling to an ugly 75-69 defeat as the Wizards eliminated them from the NBA playoffs.
Asked before the game for his key to a strong start, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pointed to pressure and intensity on defense.
"They have to feel us," he said. "We have to be up into them. We have to attack on both ends -- offense and defense."
Wizards coach Randy Wittman also spoke of defense -- "getting stops early. And we have to have a high defensive rebound percentage. When you do that, you can get out in transition and play at a quicker pace."
The Wizards did allow the Bulls five offensive rebounds in the first quarter -- not bad considering the Bulls missed 17 shots.
The Wizards scored just two points in transition, in the form of a Trevor Booker layup. The real killer was Nene, who made his mark after a one-game suspension. He swished jumpers from 17, 15 and 17 feet -- without a single Bulls' hand in his face.
After Booker's layup, the Bulls fell behind 21-13. The score was easy to believe.
The Bulls trailed 16-11 in Game 1, 15-6 in Game 2, 13-8 in Game 3 and 14-0 in Game 4.
The reason for the slow starts? No one seems to know.
But this is clear: Taj Gibson is Chicago's Red Bull, a boost of energy.
He entered Tuesday with a player efficiency rating in the playoffs of 28.6 -- fourth-best in the NBA. The next-highest Bulls player was Mike Dunleavy, ranking 32nd. No one else was in the top 50.
Gibson doesn't start. By the time Gibson entered seven minutes into the game, his team trailed 13-10.
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