By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Minutes removed from an embarrassing collapse Wednesday night, Bulls stars Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade entered the team’s stunned locker room simultaneously after finishing their postgame showers. They had played their best two-man basketball of the season, combining for 73 points, only to see the Bulls blow a 10-point lead with less than three minutes left and lose 119-114 to the Hawks at the United Center.
Just as they were in harmony on the court on this night, they each struck the same note in front of the media afterward. To put it simply, they torched their young teammates.
“Mother ******* just got to care if we win or lose,” said Butler, who scored 40 points on 13-of-22 shooting.
“I don’t know what happened, but you continue to be in these kinds of situations and lose games like this, you really don’t care enough,” added Wade, who scored 33 points on 14-of-24 shooting. “You don’t care enough. It’s got to mean that much to you to want to win. And it doesn’t.”
The comments of Butler and Wade were primarily directed at their younger teammates. On this night, the Bulls utilized five players who have three years of experience or less — guard Jerian Grant, forward Niko Mirotic, forward Doug McDermott, forward Paul Zipser and center Cris Felicio. Two recent first-round picks, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine, didn’t play, as they’ve fallen out of the rotation.
Asked if it was an issue of these youngsters lacking heart, Wade responded, “I don’t know.” He also didn’t know if some Bulls cared enough to be angry or view the loss as “debilitating.”
“I don’t know if they care enough, so I can’t say it is,” Wade said. “I wish I could say that everyone in here is going to go home and not eat tonight. I can’t say that. I wish I could, but I don’t know that they care enough. Games are supposed to hurt. You’re not supposed to sleep, you’re not supposed to want to talk to anybody. These games are supposed to hurt. I don’t know if that is in guys in this locker room. Hopefully they can prove me wrong.”
The duo’s anger stemmed from the Bulls (23-24) collapsing in rarely seen fashion. Chicago took a 110-100 lead on a Wade pull-up jumper with 3:02 left. In the ensuing timeout, coach Fred Hoiberg said he stressed to his team to not allow Atlanta to get 3-point looks. Then in a span of 63 seconds, the Hawks hit a trio of 3-pointers to pull within 110-109. While Wade would credit the Hawks’ ball movement, the Bulls’ defense also broke down fundamentally.
On the floor in that stretch were Butler, Wade, Zipser and veteran big men Taj Gibson and and Robin Lopez.
What followed was the completion of Atlanta’s game-ending 19-4 run, including a Dwight Howard alley-oop dunk that gave the Hawks the lead for good at 114-112 with 44 seconds left.
“We can play bad, we can miss shots, but we’re having too many of these lapses,” Wade said. “We’re having too many of these losses. This just can’t be acceptable if you want to do anything besides have an NBA jersey on and make some money. That’s all we’re doing right now.”
Butler and Wade each clearly expressed their displeasure with the late-game shot selection of the Bulls as well. On a night they combined to shoot 27-of-46 (58.7 percent), it was the rookie Zipser missing a 3-pointer with 1:25 left and Chicago leading 110-109, then the third-year Mirotic missing a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left.
“My thing is if you’re going to shoot those shots, you better have made that shot a lot of times, and you better have put the work in,” Wade said. “And I don’t see that enough.”
Added Butler: “I understand that if you’ve got an open shot take it. But at a point in the game like that, no offense, but you got to get the ball to your best players. That’s just how the game goes. Let it come down on my shoulders or D-Wade’s shoulders. Let us be the reason why. I understand if you’re open, yeah shoot it. But at a time and place when a guy is making shots like he was and like I was. I felt like everything was going in that I put up there, It happens man, you just got to learn from it. I’m not mad at the shot selection. I just think there’s a time and place for all of that.”
As the other Bulls dressed quietly and filed out while Wade and then Butler talked, the scene had the feel of a fractured locker room. While there was also consternation over a couple of Hoiberg’s late-game decisions, the frustration was vented at teammates on this night.
“I can look at Jimmy and say, ‘Jimmy is doing his job,'” Wade said. “I think Jimmy can look at me and say, ‘Dwyane is doing his job.’ I don’t know if we can keep going down the line and be able to say that.”
There are 35 games remaining in the Bulls’ season, and arguably the toughest stretch to date awaits soon — a six-game road trip starts next week that includes games against the Thunder, Rockets and Warriors.
How the Bulls will respond is anyone’s guess, including those of Butler and Wade. It just truly feels like a crossroads, a breaking point is upon them. And no one has answers.
“I don’t know if I see enough guys who really, really want it. Losses like this have to hurt them,” Wade said. “I’m 35 years old. I have three championships. It shouldn’t hurt me more than it hurts these young guys. They have to want it.”
Butler would just like to see some emotion of any sort.
“If you don’t come in this (expletive) pissed off after you lose any game, if you’re not pissed off that you lost, man, something is wrong,” Butler said. “This is your job. This is what you’re supposed to love to do, and I don’t think that everybody looks at it that way.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.