WASHINGTON—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."
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.