Skip to content
On that humiliating night last Nov. 22 in Phoenix, Kirk Hinrich did a slow burn as he dressed in front of his locker, angry and embarrassed after the Bulls tied a franchise record by falling to 0-9.
"I hope we let this hurt," Hinrich said then. "Because this has to change."
Change it did, as the Bulls used hustle, defense, improved conditioning and a selfless team concept to write one of the most unlikely success stories in the NBA.
With four rookies in their regular rotation backed by unheralded veterans, the Bulls earned their first playoff berth since the dynasty ended in 1998, compiling a nine-game winning streak during March and April to distance themselves further from that painful Phoenix memory.
But on Friday night at the MCI Center, Hinrich's early-season words applied anew.
The Bulls will have all off-season to ponder becoming just the ninth team to lose a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven playoff series after a bitter 94-91 loss to Washington in Game 6 of these Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
That the Bulls lost a seven-point lead with 8 minutes 40 seconds to play and surrendered the winning points on a freak play makes the loss tougher to bear.
On an inbound play off a timeout with the score tied and 34.9 seconds left, Hinrich threw a pass that Chris Duhon never sawhis back was turned as he ran the play.
The ball bounced off Duhon's back to a streaking Jared Jeffries, who broke free for a dunk and 93-91 lead.
"We had two options," coach Scott Skiles said. "Kirk thought 'Du' was open and 'Du' already was spinning out to go to the second option."
Jannero Pargo followed Jeffries' dunk with a wild air ball with 17.2 seconds remaining, forcing the Bulls to foul.
Juan Dixon made the second of two free throws with 16.4 seconds left to give the Bulls one final chance, trailing by three.
Andres Nocioni, who had been more effective at self-flagellation than scoring since his Game 1 outburst, couldn't add to his productive night of 22 points and seven rebounds, missing a wide-open three-pointer.
Tyson Chandler, also huge with 14 points and 11 rebounds, snared the rebound but inexplicably shot a two-pointer instead of kicking it out for one more three-point try.
From nine straight losses to begin the season to four straight losses to end it, the Bulls had come full circle. But once the pain etched in every player's face in a pin-drop quiet locker room eases, the Bulls will realize they traveled even further.
"They have brought pride back to the franchise," said Scottie Pippen, who knows a thing or two about such matters.
In winning its first playoff series in 23 years, Washington advances to a second-round matchup against Miami.
Skiles had implored his team to play harderand it responded in a big way. The Bulls' intensity was palpable, from Hinrich snarling at the Wizards' mascot at halftime to Duhon diving on the floor for loose balls despite back pain so severe he couldn't sit on the bench.
When Hinrich banked in a shot for three of his 22 points during a third-quarter run, you started to sense maybe this was the Bulls' night.
The Bulls led 80-73 with 8:40 to play after a Nocioni jumper. They led 91-87 with 2:41 left when Gilbert Arenas sprinted from behind for a spectacular block on a breakaway layup attempt by Hinrich, who had stripped Larry Hughes. The Bulls went scoreless over the game's final 2:54.
But they were in the game despite Ben Gordon committing five turnovers and failing to score in 16 minutes. Othella Harrington also went scoreless.
They were in it because they rediscovered their defensive intensity, holding Washington to 40 percent shooting and challenging shot after shot.
"I wish we could have played with this intensity all series," Hinrich said. "It would have made it more interesting."
The Bulls led 74-68 after three quarters thanks to a 17-5 run in which Hinrich took over, scoring 12 points on a variety of drives and jumpers.
The Bulls led 54-52 at halftime thanks to 51.4 percent shooting. Foul trouble to Harrington and Antonio Davis forced Skiles to use Lawrence Funderburke, but the recently signed reserve was part of the unit that created a 47-38 lead. Adrian Griffin, who played well, scored five points in the spurt.
Washington stormed back with a quick 10-0 run highlighted by back-to-back steals by Hughes. Chandler committed a flagrant foul on the second steal, and Hughes ( 19 points) drained both free throws and Arenas followed with a three-point play for a five-point possession.
The Bulls didn't wilt, and Pargo drained a three-pointer just before halftime, which came with Griffin and Pargo diving on the floor for loose balls and a pumped-up Skiles meeting them at halfcourt with head slaps of encouragement.
Skiles got the start he wanted on the scoreboard, if not the foul tally. The Bulls led by as many as eight in the first quarter and by 26-23 after one, although Hinrich and Harrington both picked up two fouls.
"From an effort standpoint, I thought we resembled the Bulls, which was nice," Skiles said. "I was proud of how hard we played. This is how we played almost the whole year. We challenged shots. I'm not quite sure where we went for two or three games. But you could tell right when the ball went up, we were here to try to win."
And even though they didn't, the Bulls were able to pause for perspective.
"Obviously, this has been the best season I've had as far as team," Chandler said. "I appreciate everything these players have done, laying it out and playing hard for Chicago. We went out, but we went out fighting."
Skiles left MCI Center with a smile.
"This was the year for us to get back in the game," he said. "That was the goalto become a competitive team, knowing we had young guys. I believe you either overachieve or underachieve. Our guys clearly overachieved all year, due to listening and hard work. This was a team that was really a pleasure to coach.
"Our guys are pretty proud of what they've accomplished."
They should be.