The 22-point deficit long had been erased. The 10-point deficit with 42.9 seconds remaining alsosomehowwas gone.
So many improbable moments have defined this Bulls season that it seemed perfectly natural when Jannero Pargo drained an off-balance, game-tying three-pointer off a loose-ball scrum with 5.2 seconds to play.
It's what followed Wednesday night at the United Center that broke the script and the Bulls' hearts.
Gilbert Arenas' 16-foot jumper over Kirk Hinrich and Tyson Chandler beat the buzzer for a 112-110 Washington victory over the Bulls and sent the Wizards home with a chance to close out this first-round best-of-seven series Friday night at the MCI Center, where the Bulls have lost 10 straight.
The postgame locker room was as quiet as it has been all season. Silence has never said as much.
"For him to hit a shot like that rips your heart out," a disconsolate Chandler said.
In the history of the NBA playoffs, 120 best-of-seven series have been tied after four games. The winner of Game 5 has won 100 of those series.
"Hopefully, this ticks us off," a disgusted and defiant Hinrich said. "It was embarrassing out there for a while. We have to find that sense of desperation we had in the fourth quarter from the start and play with a sense of urgency that we haven't had the last three games."
That fourth quarter finished in spectacular fashion.
Trailing 108-98, Pargo drained a three-pointer with 39.1 seconds remaining, 2.3 seconds after he entered.
Arenas, who finished with 16 points and eight assists, split two free throws with 38.7 seconds left as the Wizards shot just 60 percent (18 of 30) from the line.
Pargo drained another three-pointer with 28.4 seconds left and Antawn Jamison, who played almost the entire fourth quarter with five fouls, then missed two free throws.
Hinrich hit a three-pointer with 11.6 seconds remaining to make it 109-107. The Bulls fouled Larry Hughes, who led all scorers with 33 points. He missed his first free throw with 11.4 seconds to play but made the second.
Then Washington intentionally fouled Hinrich, who missed both free throws with 9.2 seconds left. But he scrambled for the loose ball when Michael Ruffin couldn't corral the rebound, shoveled it to Pargo for his third three-pointer in a row and playoff-franchise-record 13th for the Bulls.
"He was hitting shots with guys in his face," Arenas said.
Following a timeout, Arenas dribbled the clock down to 2 seconds and then drove to his left.
"If I had to do it over again, I would have tried to not let him go left," Hinrich said. "That's the way he wants to go."
Still, both Hinrich and Chandler challenged the shot, with both almost getting a piece of it.
"He's an All-Star guard," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said, "who made a big-time shot."
The Bulls didn't play like All-Stars in yet another slow start. Washington led 63-49 at halftime after shooting 73.7 percent in the first quarter and 64.1 percent for the half.
Almost immediately from the tip, the Wizards leaked out for easy, fast-break baskets. Some of the late-arriving crowd hadn't even sat down by the time Washington seized a 21-10 lead.
Ben Gordon led the Bulls with 27 points, many coming in a late third-quarter run that whittled the 22-point deficit. Hinrich added 23 points, Chandler a season-high 22 points and 10 rebounds and Pargo 10 points.
"Our backs are against the wall," Chandler said. "We have to feel the same way they felt when we were up 2-0 and they were going back to Washington. It's live or die now. We have to come out playing that way."
After their brutal 0-9 start, the Bulls righted themselves with defense, hustle, mental toughness and hard work.
Down the stretch, as injuries robbed them of Hinrich, Luol Deng and Eddy Curry, they kept winning with those same qualities, plus smoke and mirrors.
Friday night in Washington, the Bulls will look deep inside themselves and try to muster their best qualities in an elimination game on the road.
Their season depends on it.
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