The Washington Wizards have owned the final minutes in two straight games against the Chicago Bulls. Obviously the Bulls coaching staff has worked on fixing those matters and surely done so with urgency seeing as they trail 0-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Now the question is whether Taj Gibson spilled the beans on those plans.
"It's no excuses. We have to handle business," the Bulls top reserve forward said following Chicago's Friday morning shootaround at the Verizon Center. "We went over a lot of different plays with [coach Tom Thibodeau].
"I look forward to seeing a lot of different guys in the lineup late in the fourth."
In its Game 1 101-92 victory, Washington outscored Chicago 30-18 in the final period. The Bulls held a comfortable late lead in Game 2, but the Wizards close regulation with a 14-4 run and then jumped ahead in overtime before holding on for a 101-99 victory. Chicago went nearly eight minutes without a point for a chunk of the fourth quarter and the extra session. Wizards forward Trevor Ariza defended Bulls guard D.J. Augustin in that stretch, quieting Chicago's one hot hand.
The Bulls have been sticking with the same crunch-time lineup for some time: Gibson and Joakim Noah inside, swingman Jimmy Butler with guards Kirk Hinrich and Augustin.
That leaves starters Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy on the bench. The pair is naturally better scorers than Gibson and Butler, but lack the athleticism and defensive skills of their younger counterparts. Boozer averaged 13.7 points during the regular season, but just 8.0 through two playoff games.
Rookie forward Tony Snell is averaging nine minutes in this series, but hasn't experienced final minute pressure in the NBA playoffs. Among those yet to play for Chicago included guard and former Brigham Young standout Jimmer Fredette, a noted perimeter shooter.
How the Bulls close out games is only part of the concern for their head coach.
"We have to finish the game better. We have to start the game better. We're down 29-12 to start [Game 2]. That's a big hole to dig out of."
Of course, these Bulls are used to digging out of holes. They lost all-everything guard Derrick Rose to a season-ending surgery back in November. The team traded away All-Star forward Luol Deng in January, leaving many outsiders to put a fork in any playoff hopes, yet Chicago finished as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
"We've been counted out all season long, many times," Thibodeau said. "It's a resilient group. Just bounce back. We understand what goes into winning. It takes four to win a series. We're just trying to get the first one."
Gibson added, "The mood is great, the mood is exciting, the mood is guys feeling this opportunity to go out there and shock the world basically. ...What better than to play for each other. That's what we've been doing all year and that's what we'll be doing tonight."