CHICAGO – Symbolically at least, the changeover crew at the United Center should have left the hockey boards up for Game 3 of the Chicago Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat Friday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Given how significantly the intensity and physical play were dialed up for Game 2 in Miami – a 115-78 Heat victory that not only stuck the Bulls with the most lopsided loss in their NBA playoff history but punked them, too – the shift to Chicago’s home ice, er, court figures to ratchet up again.
“Because of the technicals and ejections, there might be a perception it’s going above and beyond basketball – it’s not,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have two physical teams. Type A personalities.”
Two alpha dogs that don’t particularly like each other. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them,” LeBron James said. “We have to carry that same aggression, that same attitude into Game 3.”
The Bulls got worse than they gave in Game 2, from the scoreboard, from the stats sheet (pounded 56-18 in the paint, coughing up 28 points on 19 turnovers), from the referees (six technical fouls and ejections of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson) and from Miami in general in first strikes and aggressiveness. The Heat presumably won’t show up Friday night with Birdwoman – the snarling blonde matron who displayed her singular talent in Noah’s face – but they will have Birdman Andersen, as well as a roster full of defending champs and first-time ring seekers eager to meet their first serious road challenge of the postseason (Milwaukee, for two quick games in Round 1, was embarrassingly hospitable in every way).
Meanwhile, the Bulls — already undermanned without Luol Deng (illness), Kirk Hinrich (bruised calf) and Derrick Rose (knee rehab) – will have to calibrate their physical play; they don’t have the manpower to absorb needless ejections, technicals or personal fouls. They will, however, have crowd muscle in their packed, raucous arena.
For fans at the United Center, upraised middle fingers are part of the daily commute, so they’ll be antsy to up the ante or, at least, the decibels. And as far as that league-wide trend this season of Heat “hate” dissipating – in apparent appreciation of James’, Dwyane Wade‘s and other Heat players’ excellence, along with more folks in Miami garb infiltrating more buildings – let’s just say Chicagoans never got that memo.
It’s a potentially combustible mix: a road team determined to not get pushed around the way it did last time in the UC (the end of Miami’s 27-game winning streak), some cranky hosts ready to assert home court, a boisterous, Friday-night crowd primed to play some role in the series and three referees bringing fresh eyes to a pivotal contest toting two games’ worth of baggage.
Somewhere within that Chicago will have to find ways to protect the rim better – a 41-28 rebounding disparity and no blocks/few altered shots against the Heat’s heavy interior attack proved fatal, even before all the jawing and theatrics at ref Scott Foster and his crew.
“I don’t want to put it on the officials,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If it doesn’t go your way, you can’t allow it to impact your next play. You can’t allow it to get you sidetracked so you don’t do your job. You have to have the ability to do your job all the time. You have to have great concentration.”
One area of concentration for Miami after Game 1 was Nate Robinson, the fireplug Chicago guard who was a reasonable Rose facsimile that night (27 points, nine assists, 10 free throws). Heavy defensive attention from James never was needed, but the Heat’s own point guards and other defenders made life more miserable for Robinson. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and four turnovers to two assists.
“They’re the world champions for a reason and they played like it,” Robinson said. “We just flat-out sucked.”
At the other end, Miami had to be please that it played fast, hit 3-point looks that clanged off in Game 1 and shook some extra rust off Wade, who scored eight of his 17 points in the decisive 30-15 third quarter. He shot 7-11, hitting his final six after a 1-for-5 start.
In personnel, the series grinds on as a mismatch – Miami boasting three of the top league’s top 20 players (and No. 1 overall), Chicago missing three guys from its preferred eight-man rotation. In intangibles, the Bulls do have the homecourt edge now, though United Center was where the Heat snuffed Chicago’s postseason in Game 5 of the 2012 East finals.
“It’s more than just not liking them,” Noah said. “It’s just two teams that want to win.”
So expect contact. Expect booing. Expect basketball. Expect whistles. Expect whining. Expect double-digit leads and comebacks. Expect single-finger salutes, too – right now the series stands 1-1-1.
If there’s any player participating in the Eastern Conference semifinal series between Chicago and Miami who could afford to lose 15 pounds in a week, it might be the Heat’s Chris Andersen. And even then only if it was all ink.
Instead, it was Bulls forward Luol Deng reporting that sudden weight loss — just one of the ill effects of his battle first with illness and then with complications of a spinal-tap procedure performed last week to rule out viral meningitis. Deng, a two-time All-Star, has not played since Game 5 of the first round against Brooklyn, his condition worsening and requiring multiple trips to the hospital after his body was found to be leaking spinal fluid from the initial diagnostic procedure.
He underwent a “blood patch” treatment to stop the leak but told reporters at the Bulls’ practice facility in north suburban Chicago that he had lost 15 pounds and still was suffering from headaches as his body heals from the ordeal. As Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald reported:
Deng appears to be on the mend, but his body is low on spinal fluid, which surrounds and helps protect the brain. There’s really no telling when he might be able to play basketball again.
“I wish whatever you take out, you could put it back in,” Deng said. “It’s just your body’s got to make the fluid back up. I’m doing everything I can. I’m staying hydrated. The biggest thing is, really, eating. I’ve got to try to get my appetite back and eat as much as I can.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau called Deng’s status day-to-day, but there’s no chance he’ll play in Friday’s Game 3 against Miami at the United Center. After that, the teams will get two days off before Game 4 on Monday, and even that seems unlikely for a return.
Not having Deng – an all-purpose player on whom Thibodeau leans more even than a healthy Derrick Rose – is just one of Chicago’s manpower problems. Rose remains out — despite countless rumors, criticism and backlash defenses — from the knee injury he suffered April 28, 2012. Rose’s replacement, Kirk Hinrich, had a second MRI exam on the calf bruise that has sidelined him since Game 4 vs. the Nets.
Then there was forward Taj Gibson, who was waiting to hear if the NBA would further penalize him after his ejection from Game 2 at Miami Wednesday. Gibson probably will be fined for his profane outburst at referee Scott Foster and slow departure from the court but it’s possible the league could suspend him for a game.
The Bulls’ suffered the worst playoff setback in franchise history at AmericanAirlines Arena Wednesday, falling 115-78 as the defending champion Heat pulled even at 1-1 in the best-of-seven series.
MIAMI – The Derrick Rose Watch is in its final hours, so all that huffing and puffing that the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat heaped onto Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series at AmericanAirlines Arena wasn’t all for naught.
It served to move Wednesday night closer to Thursday morning, which gets everything more quickly to Friday’s Game 3 tipoff, the point at which this long rehabilitative sideshow ends once and for all. Either the Bulls’ injured point guard goes for something Hollywood and steps through the darkness onto the court at United Center to a booming embrace … or he emerges again after another pregame shooting session in a suit and sits his way straight into the offseason.
Truly, it is now or it is never. There can be no middle ground.
The “never” part of that equation should have won six weeks ago but has shown itself to be a tough out. Months of daily talk shows and Twitter timelines keep alive the chatter of Rose coming back. This weekend will officially become 12 months after surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee.
The waiting game sucked most of the air out of the Bulls’ regular season – remember, the conventional wisdom suggested Rose would be back in late February or early March – and here it is, still laying claim to what at times has been a remarkable postseason precisely because of his absence.
But it all ends Friday night. Fortunately. (more…)
MIAMI – While much of the NBA still is in its introductory phase with the Chicago Bulls’ fresh small forward/shooting guard – meet Jimmy Butler – LeBron James and the rest of the Miami Heat have moved on to the next stage of a young player’s career.
That is, beat Jimmy Butler.
Butler, a second-year guy out of Marquette and the last player drafted in 2011′s first round, earned some serious individual acclaim for the Bulls’ team victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series Monday. Matched up with the reigning MVP, Butler pestered James, stuck to him as much as possible and funneled him toward help defenders when he couldn’t. All if it contributed to a performance in which, yes, the Heat superstar eventually burst through for 15 points in the fourth quarter but was contained to just nine prior to that.
Butler did well at the other end, too, scoring 21 pints on 5-of-13 shooting and getting to the foul line 10 times, more than James (nine) and Dwyane Wade (zero) combined.
Oh, and he played every second of the Bulls’ 93-86 victory in the series opener, the third straight game – dating to Game 6 against Brooklyn in the first round – in which he has logged 48 minutes. So often, given his reputation and world-weary ways, Wade is the player who seems like the new “hardest working man in show business,” in need of some James Brown crew and robe to get helped to his feet. But lately, it’s been Wade’s fellow Marquette product in the J.B. role.
“To be able to play that many minutes in a row, obviously a lot of guys can’t do that and still be aggressive on the offensive end and defensively be able to guard different guards,” Wade said as Game 2 Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, TNT) approached. “Obviously he has [something special]. That’s why Marquette chose him.”
Butler admitted he’s a little tuckered. But he added: “You learn to fight through it, when you do it so often. And it’s easy ’cause you have guys on your team that are in your corner when you are tired. You look at Lu [Deng], he does that 82 games. It’s definitely tough, but it’s all about your mental state. If you know in your mind that you can do it, your body will follow.” (more…)
Who’s your favorite playoff underdog, the Warriors or Bulls?
Steve Aschburner: The Bulls. Being based in Chicago, I’ve seen this team more than any other — and most of the time, it is overcoming some injury, mishap, illness or absence. It’s no longer just a Tom Thibodeau phenomenon, their coach stubbornly and without excuse driving them through adversity. It’s the whole team manning up without Derrick Rose, without Kirk Hinrich, without whomever, and new guys without much track record for grit (Marco Belinelli) or selflessness (Nate Robinson) pulling on the same rope as if they’d been in that locker room for years. From Game 7 in Brooklyn to their Game 1 on Miami’s court, the underdog Bulls already have experienced a level of exhilaration and accomplishment that talented, three-star championship teams never know.
Fran Blinebury: You love these “Which of your children do you like best?” questions. Let’s face it. While we can admire and respect the work ethic, the attitude and the intensity of the Bulls, what little kid ever grew up in the backyard or on a schoolyard fantasizing about grinding out possessions and getting bloody fighting for rebounds? In the game of our dreams, it’s all about being Steph Curry hitting ridiculous, unbelievable shots from anywhere on the court, Jarrett Jack being utterly fearless, Klay Thompson getting it done at both ends and everything being played at warp speed. I’d be happy to watch the Warriors play into June, July, August or September.
Joakim Noah (by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)
Jeff Caplan: No question it’s the Bulls. Hey, I love the Warriors just like everybody else, but they’re essentially a young, healthy team (Brandon Rush was lost at the start of the season) on the come and led by an emerging superstar. They’re a great feel-good story, but the Bulls have proven time and again to be the ultimate warriors. How in the world is this banged-up and depleted club, one that keeps absorbing blows — a spinal tap gone wrong for Luol Deng, I mean, WTH? — in the second round and up 1-nil on the champs. Because nobody outworks the Bulls. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I’llgo Golden State, even with the running start of Bulls 1-0 and Warriors 0-1. Chicago is pretty special at dealing with, or even ignoring, adversity, but is still bigger underdogs than Golden State. The Warriors are closer to the Spurs in talent level, have the hottest hand of the postseason (Stephen Curry) and are doing fine at ignoring as well. The Warriors had more of a chance from the start. One game doesn’t change that, for either option.
John Schuhmann: Well, the Bulls are the true underdog, aren’t they? They’re facing the defending champs, the world’s best player, and a team that had lost just two of its previous 43 games before Monday. They’re a M.A.S.H. unit of injuries and illnesses. They’re carried offensively by a guy who’s barely taller than Sekou. Their best (active) player has a ponytail, wears le coq sportif shoes, and shoots a jumper like he’s playing paper football. And they have the most disheveled-looking coach in the league! This is no contest.
Sekou Smith: This is a tough one. It’s like asking who do you like better, Miss America or Miss Universe. You’re right no matter who or what you choose. I love the Warriors’ style and the fact that Steph Curry can turn a game upside down in minutes with his scoring and shooting. But my pick is the Bulls. Any team capable of doing the things they’ve done, under these circumstances, has earned my attention and the favorite status. Tom Thibodeau has turned the bottom third of his roster into a wicked playoff machine over the the past five days. They’re doing it with defense, fueled by the relentless Joakim Noah and the surprising Jimmy Butler. But they’ve also got the best fourth quarter scorer in the playoffs (Nate Robinson) driving the bus late in games. How can you not love what the Black-and-Blue Bulls are doing?
Lang Whitaker: The Warriors are obviously fun to watch, but it’s hard to root against the Bulls. They’ve got more guys missing than they have healthy, or at least it feels that way. Also, the Bulls have a cast of characters who we’ve seen try and fail with other franchises, from Nate Robinson to Marco Belinelli, so it feels as though there’s some great quest for redemption. Also, it doesn’t hurt that their coach, Tom Thibodeau, looks like he’s being played by the King of Queens, Kevin James.
MIAMI – The Chicago Bulls were healthier and, back then, had the NBA’s newly named Most Valuable Player on their side. The Miami Heat were still a relative work in progress, talented and scary but also sorting and sifting near the end of Big 3, volume 1.
The Bulls whupped that crew by 21 points in the opener of the 2011 Eastern Conference championship series, held the home-court edge and looked for a couple days as if they were headed for the Finals.
Ahem. The Heat won the next four games, the first two by double digits each, the next in overtime, the last with a 19-4 rush over the final 3:36 to win by three.
The Miami team of postseason 2013 is more dangerous and highly evolved, with the league’s best player at the peak of his powers. Chicago is missing three guys (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich) from its preferred eight- or nine-man rotation. So there really shouldn’t be a problem, should there?
Yes, the Heat dropped the opener of the teams’ East semifinals series Monday. But LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest have trailed in five of the 10 playoff series they have played since coming together in the summer of 2010. But they have roared back four times – three times last spring against Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City. Only against Dallas in 2011 did they slip behind (3-2) and stay behind.
That should alleviate any hand-wringing about the here and now, right?
“We’ve been there,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our experiences have taught us a lot of things, but that does nothing for us right now. We have to fight for our playoff lives.”
The challenge for the Heat on Tuesday, practicing in advance of Game 2, was to find the right line between unruffled and overreacting. Some considered the Bulls’ 93-86 Game 1 victory a wake-up call, a shock to their system, a shot across the Miami guys’ bows. Others felt the Heat played well, that too much was made of James’ facilitating first half (just two points scored) and that extreme adjustments would be the biggest mistake the defending champions could make at this point.
“When you lose a game, your ears seem to work better,” said forward Shane Battier of the team’s mood in practice. “You seem more open for adjustments and you see to tune up the effort a little more in the next game.”
Said James: “We executed, we missed shots, we had good looks. … It ain’t about X’s and O’s in this series. It’s about the will and determination to win the series. For both teams.”
That didn’t stop Spoelstra from immersing the Heat in a lengthy video session. But what it confirmed again and again was that they got a lot of good, even open shots that they simply did not knock down. By James count, six of Battier’s seven 3-pointers were wide open, as were three of Mike Miller‘s four. Combined they made only three of those 11.
That had more to do with the outcome in James’ view than his alleged lack of aggression. He scored 22 of his 24 points after halftime.
“My shooters have gotten us to this point. They’ve made shots over the season,” James said. “I’ve got trust in them. We still had a chance to win the game, no matter what I was doing in the first half or not.
Spoelstra, James and the others did see some breakdowns offensively in the game’s final minutes and an unacceptable brand of defense (35 points allowed) in the fourth quarter. When James and Wade attacked the rim, they looked more interested in avoiding Bulls center Joakim Noah as a shot-blocker than they did in forcing the issue physically. As a result, James got the foul line less often than his defender, Jimmy Butler and Wade didn’t shoot a free throw at all.
Still, Wade said, “There were a lot of encouraging things throughout the game. That was the kind of game where you’re not playing as good as you want to be, but good teams find a way to grind it out and get the win.”
Chicago played harder and got rewarded. The Bulls, if they’re smart, will remain on the run because they have manpower issues and a roster stretched thin by injuries. Hinrich (calf bruise) still was limping after their team meeting Tuesday at their downtown Miami hotel and said he’d had only marginal improvement from rest and treatment.
Deng (spinal tap complications) still was in Chicago, posting on social media a photo of himself in his hospital bed that was a mystery to some in the Bulls’ camp (was that taken during Game 7 vs. Brooklyn? Or Game 1 Monday?) The best option with the All-Star forward would seem to be patience until Game 3 at United Center or later. As for Rose, that remains a “no,” with the faintest hint of “you’re-kidding-right?”
So the Bulls will try to remain a moving target, with the Heat likely to challenge Noah, attack Butler and pressure Nate Robinson more. Obviously, they don’t want to be satisfied with getting one of two at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We’ve played this team a lot so we know their tendencies pretty well. But every game of thes playoff series is chess,”Noah said. “We’re going to go back to the film room, see the things that we could have done better. … it almost becomes like you know their sets before they even run them.
“We’ve been in this situation before where we won Game 1 .We were all very, very excited about it. And they ran us over.”
MIAMI – As usual, the Chicago Bulls are undermanned, so they should have the Miami Heat precisely where they want them.
Only the Heat are wise to that game. As far as the defending champions are concerned, the Bulls not only have Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich available for Game 1 and each subsequent contest in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, they might as well have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Norm Van Lier.
“We don’t play the personnel, we play the jerseys. We play the team,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, avoiding any discussion of specific absent Bulls players. “This team proved that no matter who’s in the lineup, they’re going to be competitive and they’re going to do the little things that’s going to give them the opportunity to win games.”
With Rose (knee surgery) a constant all seasons and Hinrich (bruised calf) a game-time decision, Deng is the most pressing and serious. The illness that led to his precautionary spinal tap led to a complication that sent him back to the hospital over the weekend. Deng’s plan, after the Bulls’ Game 7 first-round victory at Brooklyn Saturday, was to meet the Bulls in south Florida for the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But he was not in Miami Monday for shootaround sessions and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he didn’t know if Deng would travel in time for Game 2 or await the series’ shift to Chicago.
That wasn’t anything that the Heat players were willing to engage.
“No change,” forward Chris Bosh said when asked about Deng. “It’s all the same. I’m tellin’ ya, that’s how you get beat. You think that just because Deng’s not playing, you look at the other guy and change your mindset. That’s when things start to go wrong. So we can all learn from Brooklyn’s mistake.”
With Deng, with Rose, with Hinrich, with whomever, Bosh said, Miami is approaching the series as if all Bulls are ready to hit the streets of Pamplona.
The All-Star power forward did watch Game 7 of Nets-Bulls, however, in which Chicago produced one of the great upsets in recent NBA playoff history. Star-laden teams never get the chance to know the exhilaration of giant-killing quite like that.
“Yeah. I mean, my days in Toronto I know what the underdog feels like but we never had a chance to win a playoff series or anything like that,” Bosh said. “Honestly, I don’t want to be in that position.
“It really just comes down to playing the game. You can’t really worry about who’s the underdog and who’s the favorite. If you sleep on those guys, if you think you just have to show up to win the game, you’re wrong. Chicago has a work ethic. They’re going to play together, they’re going to make it tough. And if you underestimate them, you will get beat.”
The Heat and the Bulls split their four meetings this season. Miami last played on April 28, and it’s eight-day layoff is the longest between series of its three-season run since Wade, Bosh and LeBron James joined forces in 2010.
MIAMI – So much of this NBA season for the Chicago Bulls, especially in these playoffs, has been about missing Derrick Rose.
Not anymore. At this point, it’s all about what Derrick Rose is missing.
The script officially flipped Saturday night when the Bulls pulled off their stunning, wholly unexpected Game 7 upset of the Brooklyn Nets. Rose was there but he was there in a suit again, no more a part of what really mattered in the arena than the guy wielding the T-shirt cannon.
Wait, that’s not quite right – Rose did play a role in making it remarkable with his very uninvolvement. The Bulls did not have their leader and their superstar, again, in circumstances that should have doomed them – and then they went about their business as they have all season. Or in Joakim Noah‘s case, with some frenzied, divine, determined intervention.
No Derrick? No problem. No problem too great, anyway.
A too-familiar sight: Chicago’s Derrick Rose cheering, not playing. (by Gary Dineen/NBAE)
Rose was in a suit and Kirk Hinrich was in a suit and Luol Deng was back home in Chicago, and still the Bulls beat the offensively gifted and favored Nets to advance to the playoffs’ second round. It was merely the latest in a season of highlight nights and indelible memories missed by Rose during his recovery from knee surgery last May.
He missed the victory in Miami in January in Chicago’s first meeting with the defending champions and assorted undermanned victories before and since. He missed the Bulls’ run of three straight overtime games in four nights, two on the road, two of which went their way. He missed the game at United Center in late March when the Heat, after stomping pretty much the rest of the league, had their winning streak stopped at 27 games (second-longest in NBA history) by a team, wow, still missing its star.
Because Rose and the team’s front office committed to a cautious approach to his rehab and return – the Bulls and their medical staff overseeing but ultimately empowering Rose and his advisers to make the decisions – the laconic icon hasn’t been a part of anything all season. Even as his absence has defined and made this season special for those who have been a part of it.
Now, Rose is missing this, at least four games and as many as seven against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest. It could have been a classic. Remember when Rose took his stand about not working his cell phone in the offseason and recruiting help by courting his competition, it came across as a direct response to the AAU buddy-ball brainstorming of James, Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Neither the Heat nor Rose was fully formed when the two sides met for the first time in the postseason in 2011, but the storyline now, with Rose’s very MVP-ness that year being questioned again, would have been must-see: Some guys want to play with the best, other guys want to beat the best.
The storyline, as is, is pretty compelling. It’s underdogs and Cinderella and, frankly, it’s sad. Because Rose is missing out on the full experience of what his Bulls teammates are. Guys like Rose never fully know what it feels like to be overlooked and underrated because, no matter how humble and unassuming they might be (and that’s no act with Rose), they are their teammates’ swagger. Stars like Rose don’t know what it’s like to have their chances dismissed. Stars like Rose look into fans’, friends’ and family eyes and see hope twinkling.
Maybe one time in the pros, before the end of Rose’s rookie year in 2009, he might seen doubt in people’s eyes. But then he had his coming-out party as a future NBA star, the seventh-seeded Bulls pushing the mighty Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round. Since then, Rose has been the man; when he plays and, without interruption for more than a year now, when he doesn’t.
In the end, Rose is missing a lot. Early in the Brooklyn series, Bulls forward Taj Gibson talked about Rose’s view and words from the bench. “He was just eager,” Gibson said. “He was just saying like, he can’t wait to get back, he can’t wait to play. And just critiquing the game, talking about what we needed to do, what kind of plays. He knew a lot of the sets coming out so he would just scream out plays. He was just hyped talking about good stuff.”
As frustrating as it is for Bulls and NBA fans to wonder what this Eastern Conference semifinal series might be like with Rose involved, as puzzled as they all are by his erring on the side of caution or his timidity or his whatever it is, they can assume that Rose is frustrated too. Or should be.
So don’t be disappointed by Derrick Rose. Be disappointed for him.
The Brooklyn Nets aren’t going to out-tough the Chicago Bulls. No team can do that.
Led by Tom Thibodeau, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, the Bulls are certainly the most resilient team in the league, Exhibit A being Saturday’s comeback from 14 points down with three minutes to go in regulation and the ability to outlast the Nets in three overtimes with Noah, Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson having fouled out.
“That’s been the nature of the team all season,” Thibodeau said Sunday. “They’ll keep battling. Things weren’t going our way, but there was no give-in. They just kept going.”
Now, it’s not like the Nets are pushovers. It takes a certain amount of toughness to build a 14-point lead in a hostile environment when you’re down 2-1 in the series. And the Nets managed to bounce back from blowing that 14-point lead to make some (just not enough) big plays down the stretch. Really, if just one of those crazy Robinson shots didn’t go in, this series would be tied 2-2.
It’s not though. And the Nets are now faced with the challenge of having to win three straight games. If they can’t, we can certainly declare their season a disappointment.
So Brooklyn will have to show more of its own resilience in Game 5 on Monday (7 p.m. ET, TNT). Playing well in the face of elimination is a mental thing, especially in the wake of such a heartbreaking loss.
But the Nets shouldn’t lack confidence going forward. They have put up big numbers against the staunch Chicago defense twice in the series thus far. And though they’re 2-6 against the Bulls this season, they’ve been outscored by just 12 total points over the eight games.
“I don’t think it’s difficult for our guys to feel that they’re capable of doing this,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I think that they feel we can beat the Bulls. Have we done it? No, we haven’t done it enough. But they know that we can do it.”
The Nets have seemingly been a team without character all season. They’re to be praised for taking care of business against bad teams (they were 35-7 against teams that finished below .500) and for compiling the league’s fifth-best road record (23-18). But they’re to be questioned for their 14-26 mark against winning teams and their defense, which wavered ranged from poor to mediocre most of the season.
Maybe that’s just who the Nets are, a good team that can’t hang when the going gets tough. Or maybe they haven’t shown us everything they have.
If the Nets are to show some resolve on Monday, it must manifest itself in execution as much as energy. They can continue to beat the Bulls’ defense if they get into their offense early, keep their stars – Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — on the move, and knock down some shots. The absence of Kirk Hinrich — out with a calf injury — should benefit Williams on the perimeter.
Defensively, the Nets need to cut off Robinson in the pick-and-roll and put more pressure on Carlos Boozer at the high post. No other Chicago player has really been able to hurt them and the Bulls have been somewhat fortunate in that they’ve shot so well (54 percent) from mid-range. That number is not sustainable, especially if Brooklyn does a slightly better job of challenging those shots.
It’s all right there for the Nets. Chicago is certainly the tougher team, but not necessarily the better team. Down 3-1, proving that will be difficult, but nothing worthwhile comes easily.
It starts with Game 5.
Hinrich’s absence (is status beyond Game 5 is unknown) could be a real killer for the Bulls. Here are some numbers that don’t paint a pretty picture for Chicago…
Since Jan. 1, the Bulls are 27-12 (5-1 vs. Brooklyn) with Hinrich and 5-13 (0-1 vs. Brooklyn) without him.
The Bulls’ have allowed the Nets to score just 97.5 points per 100 possessions in Hinrich’s 162 minutes on the floor, but 110.7 in Hinrich’s 45 minutes on the bench. That’s some brutal defense, but it should be noted that Joakim Noah has played just three of those 45 minutes.