May 15, 2013
In pretty much a must-win game, Chicago put in its worst performance of the year, as well as one of the worst postseason games in the franchise’s history. Now they find themselves in a true must-win situation, facing elimination as they hit the road.
You can’t blame the Bulls too much, I guess, considering the number of injuries they are fighting through and that their third string point guard, who is known only for scoring, wouldn’t have been able to hit a shot on a Fisher Price net (which is more his size, actually).
Nate Robinson went 0-12, the Bulls shot 25.7 percent as a team, scored just nine points in the third quarter and finished with 19 made field goals. Oh and the Bulls point guard combo of Nate and Marquis Teague scored more points for Miami (two) than for Chicago (zero).
Tom Thibodeau was so desperate for offense that he played Rip Hamilton 22 minutes. Rip hadn’t seen the floor since Game 6 of the Brooklyn series—a series in which he played ten total minutes. So Rip Hamilton played 22 minutes in a single game after playing ten minutes in a seven game series—a series which included a triple overtime game. And the worst part about it: Rip ended up as the Bulls’ third leading scorer.
“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Robinson said. “We’re professionals for a reason. We’ll go back to the drawing board and figure it out.” I’m not sure what the Bulls can draw up that will win them three straight games, unless Vladimir Radmanovic turns into a LeBron James clone. I’m not ruling that out, but I’ll say it’s unlikely.
The worst part about Chicago’s Game 4 no-show has to be the timing. Not just that it came at home in the postseason, but because this was a very winnable game. Miami didn’t play all that well, but then again, they didn’t have to. Dwyane Wade continued to struggle, finishing 3-10 from the field with six points. Chris Bosh shot well (7-10), but didn’t have a huge stat line (14 points, six rebounds). Norris Cole wasn’t hitting everything in sight (2-4, seven points). And Shane Battier could have been a member of the Bulls with his shooting (1-6).
“I don’t want them looking backwards,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t want them looking ahead. Just lock into the game that’s in front of us and concentrate on winning that game. We know we’re capable.”
The Bulls seemed capable to make this an entertaining series coming in and actually stole home court after Game 2, but they’ve lost the three games in this matchup by an average of 23.3 points per game. Too much might be piling up against the Bulls: too much talent on Miami, too many injuries for the Bulls.
Kirk Hinrich, still dealing with a calf bruise, and Luol Deng, recovering from an illness, are both expected to be out of Game 5.
It’s not just Game 5 the Bulls need to win now though. It’s Game 5, Game 6 and Game 7…against the defending champs. It’s been an uphill battle all year for Chicago, playing without their best player, working through a variety of injuries to a number of different players, but this particular hill is too big to climb.
There aren’t any moral victories in the playoffs, and if the Bulls continue to play like they did at home in Games 3 and 4, there won’t be any actual victories either.
If the Bulls do go down, they’ll go down fighting. But I tonight is their last game of the season, let’s just hope they shoot at least 30 percent.
May 13, 2013
MVP (Most Valuable Player): LeBron James did what an MVP does. He recorded 27 points (9-20), seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals. The Bulls as a team recorded just 12 assists, although Chicago only had 19 baskets—so not many chances to get an assist.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): No one player earned this. It should go to the entire Bulls team. They started 1-12 from the field, were even worse in the third quarter (more on this in the next section) and put up some historically bad numbers. Nobody shot well for the Bulls, who went 25.7 percent from the floor. Nate Robinson did go 0-12 from the field, so only a handful of people in history shot worse than him. We really shouldn’t be surprised that Nate came crashing back down to earth.
Defining Moment: The nine points in the entire third quarter are probably a pretty good summary for this game. The Bulls went 2-13 from the field in the third frame, or 15.4 percent. They also turned it over seven times for good measure.
X factor: The Bulls point guards score scored more points for Miami (two), than for Chicago (zero). Shout out to Adam Reisinger for pointing this out. Marquis Teague tipped in a pass on defense to score two points for the Heat, but went 0-2 at the end he was actually supposed to score. That was nothing compared to Nate Robinson’s 0-12, though.
That Was … history: The Bulls set franchise records for fewest points and lowest field goal percentage in a playoff game. Their nine third quarter points were also a franchise low for the postseason. It was the worst shooting percentage for a playoff team since 2004 (Hornets, 24.4 percent). The Bulls worst playoff field goal percentage coming into tonight was 31.1 percent against Detroit in 1990.
In short, that was one of the worst playoff performances ever. At least he Bulls have an excuse of being injured. This very long, frustrating season could have just one game remaining, as the series heads back to Miami.
On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago forced the Heat into exactly what they wanted: midrange jumpers in Game 3. The only problem is, Miami didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to miss those shots—or at least not all of Miami did.
Tom Thibodeau’s game plan worked against LeBron James, who went just 1-7 from midrange. That’s 14.3 percent. James didn’t have a great shooting night from the field, going 6-17, but hit all 11 of his foul shots and added eight boards and seven assists because he’s LeBron James. Stopping the MVP is where it starts, but that’s just part of the battle.
Miami’s third banana, Chris Bosh, hit 5-9 from midrange, and went 8-16 overall. As a team, the Heat hit 50.0 percent of their midrange jumpers (13-26), nearly 10 percent better than the league average from the area.
The unfortunate part of all this is that Chicago did a very good job of defending the rim. The Heat went just 11-21 (52.4 percent) at the basket, almost 20 percent lower than their season average. Miami led the league in field goal percentage at the rim, hitting 71.5 percent of their shots from in close, according to Hoopdata. LeBron shot a staggering 77.7 at the rim on the year, but the Bulls held him to 50 percent (3-6) last time out.
Unfortunately the Bulls couldn’t capitalize because of the midrange jumpers mentioned above and the fact that Stephen Curry is wearing a Norris Cole skin-suit for this series. Cole is a perfect 8-8 from three in the three games, and was 6-7 overall in Game 3, contributing 18 off the bench.
So what can the Bulls do next game? Well, maybe closing out on Cole at the three point line a little quicker would be a start. But other than that, they probably won’t change much. Chicago will always give their opponent the midrange jumper, because it is the least efficient shot in the game. They showed this in the Nets series, when Brook Lopez hit three consecutive 20-footers but there was absolutely no change in the way they defended it.
They don’t want to give up easy shots, which they didn’t in Game 3, although the Heat did get to the line 30 times. The Bulls also want to run you off the three-point line, which they didn’t do great, but when the defense is over-compensating for LeBron James some open threes will happen. Also when Nate Robinson is on the court or when Carlos Boozer has to guard a small forward.
The Bulls were right there, they just faded down the stretch, which isn’t surprising considering their short bench. Don’t expect them to have any more healthy bodies for Game 4.
According to K.C. Johnson, Luol Deng couldn’t practice on Saturday without throwing up, and on Sunday stopped after just warming up.
“I did some individual work (Saturday) and I started throwing up a little bit. I couldn’t finish the workout,” Deng said, probably with a trash can within reach. “I tried to practice with the team (Sunday) and the same thing. My body, my system is not reacting well to anything I’m doing right now.”
Of course to Thibs, this mean Deng is “day-to-day.” I can’t believe they haven’t shut down Deng when he is having trouble eating solid foods.
Kirk Hinrich didn’t do much either, riding a stationary bike and getting a few shots up and is officially the same status as Deng.
With that news, Chicago will have the same guys healthy to play as they look to even the series at two games apiece (presumably with more than just two and a half minutes of Nazr Mohammed).
Among the “things that went right” for the Bulls was Carlos Boozer finally getting word that the second round started. Boozington scored 21 points on 10-16 from the field after scoring just 14 points in the first two games combined. He was finally being somewhat aggressive, and it paid off when he did. Boozer went 4-4 at the rim and 7-8 overall in the paint. If that right there doesn’t jump out to Boozer to start getting to the hole, then I don’t know what will. And while he was 7-8 in the paint, he was just 3-7 from midrange. That’s not a terrible midrange percentage, but he often has a size advantage in this series and he needs to take advantage of that (without throwing elbows and getting called for charges).
Don’t wake the beast: The Miami Heat are 10-0 following losses in Game 1 of playoff series during the Big Three era. After dropping Game 1, they won four straight against Chicago in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, four straight against the Thunder in the 2012 Finals and have now won two straight against the Bulls in this series.
May 9, 2013
Hold on one second, I’m still adding up all the fouls from last game. 51 personal fouls, nine technicals, two ejections and one flagrant. According to my math that adds up to…one lopsided victory.
Lots of people said this is what “playoff basketball” is all about, but it’s a stretch to say that what the Bulls were doing for parts of Game 2 can be considered basketball. Chicago shot 35.5 percent, while Miami hit 60.0 percent from the field. Look at any stat from Wednesday night and the Bulls would be losing in it, unless it was “players thrown out.” Thanks for that Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson (although when they got tossed the game was out of reach).
“Not only Joakim, but our entire team,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to do better, do a better job with that. You can’t get sidetracked. We know how it’s going to be called. We’re not going to get calls. We just got to be tough mentally, physically, emotionally. We’ve got to be a lot stronger.”
Although the calls didn’t go their way, and probably won’t even with the series shifting to Chicago, the Bulls might gain something out of getting under Miami’s skin. Anytime LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company are thinking more about a hard foul or revenge than playing basketball, that’s an advantage for the over-matched Bulls. Chicago won’t get the superstar calls in this series, but they can irritate those superstars and hope to know them out of their game.
But this time, Chicago needs to keep their cool and know when to stop, because they can’t afford to lose anyone to an ejection with all of their injuries.
Luol Deng probably won’t be able to go again. “I don’t know. I want to play, but I don’t know what I can do,” he said. “I just, I haven’t done anything.” Deng apparently lost 15 pounds because of his recent illness. I think the Bulls should play it safe and shut Deng down. It’s not worth risking his health any more. Losing that much weight in such a short amount of time is bizarre.
But of course, that won’t happen. “Still day to day. He’s feeling a little bit better,” Tom Thibodeau said. “We’ll see tomorrow.” I don’t know if Thibs is just pretending like he will play Lu to mess with Miami or whether he thinks Deng might actually be healthy enough to go. I truly hope it’s the former. Everyone praises Thibodeau’s never say die attitude—it’s gotten them to the second round of the playoffs and tied 1-1 with the Heat—but this is a case which you should worry about the player more than the game.
The 15 pounds loss is scary, but the fact that this is still lingering for Deng is even worse. “I’m weak and I have headaches,” he said Thursday. “When I’m moving around a lot, my headaches increase.” Sounds like facing the Heat would be the perfect answer to this, right? The timing is unfortunate, but Deng looks to be out the rest of the series.
While on the topic of injuries, Kirk Hinrich had a second MRI on his calf and is still listed as doubtful.
No Deng means Jimmy Butler is stuck with the task of guarding LeBron James the rest of the way. LeBron had his way in the first quarter of Game 2, going 6-6 for 12 points. For the game, James was 6-7 at the rim, 0-2 from midrange and 1-3 from beyond the arc. It’s easier said than done, and it takes an entire team, but keeping James away from the basket is going to be the key for Game 3.
Not only does he score at a high rate at the rim, but when he drives the defense is forced to collapse, which leads shooters open. Miami, who as a team was 24-29 at the basket, also hit 50 percent of their threes. That was up from 29.2 percent in Game 1.
Stopping Miami is just part of the battle, because if the Bulls can’t score like they couldn’t in Game 2, the defense won’t matter. Only Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson made more than four field goals in the game and Gibson (4-6) was the only Bulls player with more than five field goal attempts to shoot 50 percent or better. Miami had six such players. Chicago’s offense doesn’t have any secrets–Nate Robinson has to create, Butler and Belinelli have to hit open shots and Noah has to facilitate.
But the guy who has been a no-show so far in the second round is (not surprisingly) Carlos Boozer. Boozington is 6-20, and even though he is being guarded by Shane Battier for stretches, he refuses to drive. Boozer has to stop settling for midrange jumpers, especially if it’s not falling. If he doesn’t start putting the ball in the basket somehow, the Bulls could be in for another possible blowout.
“It’s just one game,” LeBron said. “Even though you got dominated the game before and you didn’t do things right, it’s still one game. You don’t get two wins if you win by over 30 or over 40. You only get one game.
The Bulls got dominated in Game 3, but it’s still an even series and Tom Thibodeau has always been good at getting them to respond to losses—and after Chicago was embarrassed last time out, they should be hungry to prove they deserve to be here.
May 8, 2013
No Deng, no Hinrich, no Rose? No problem. Against the Miami Heat, winners of 41 of their last 43 heading into Game 1? Seriously, no problem. The Bulls have Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli to fill in after all, that should be more than enough. And surprisingly to outsiders, it was enough as the Bulls took Game 1 and stole home-court advantage from the top seed.
It’s hard to say how many believers this team has outside of the actual members of the team.
The Bulls have every right to be content with where they are in the playoffs. No one expected them to win 45 games in the regular season with all their injuries. No one would have blamed them if they had failed to make the second round without their star player and with others facing injuries as well. This season is already considered a success—but the Bulls continue to fight and scrap because they aren’t content.
That starts with Tom Thibodeau, who, for good and bad, never thinks the Bulls are out of a game. And Joakim Noah has had the same mindset his entire career. Nate Robinson has it as well. He also believes every shot he takes is going in, which causes problems. Although, if there is one thing the Bulls have needed this year it is just that: a confident scorer.
Robinson came up huge in Game 1, scoring 29 points, including the final seven for the Bulls, to go with nine assists and ten stitches in his busted up lip. Robinson’s scoring, Jimmy Butler’s defense and Noah’s everything helped the Bulls pull off the huge upset because not a single one of those guys will back down.
And because of that mindset, Chicago has had recent success against the Heat. In Miami’s last 44 games this season they are 2-2 against Chicago, and 39-1 against other teams. At this point, the Heat know the Bulls go all out every time they meet, so there is no excuse for Miami to get caught off guard.
Even though the Bulls struck first, they still have a ton of work left—and history is not on their side. In each of the other two times the Heat fell behind 1-0 in a playoff series in the Bosh/James/Wade era, they went on to sweep the next four games. That includes last year’s NBA Finals, with the Thunder, as well as the last time the Bulls met the Heat, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“We haven’t lost in a while, so it was very different to come in here and deal with a loss and to deal with it in the playoffs at home,” Wade said after a practice. “It was different from the standpoint of what we’ve been used to lately, but not anything different from what we’ve been used to as a team. We’ve been in tough moments. We’ve lost games before.”
Although the Heat have obviously lost before, the Bulls did some things that Miami hasn’t seen much this season. Chicago scored 35 points in the fourth quarter, the most the Heat have given up in a quarter all year. Miami also shot 39.7 percent from the field, it’s second-worst showing this season.
All eyes will be on Miami tonight, to see if they make the adjustments necessary to even the series, and that starts with hitting open shots. Shane Battier, normally reliable from deep went 2-7 from beyond the arc as Miami struggled overall, shooting 7-24 (29.2 percent) from long range.
Jimmy Butler will have the task of slowing LeBron James again after doing a solid job of it in Game 1. James wasn’t looking for his shot early, seeming content to be a facilitator (he finished with eight assists). That changed in the second half, as James finished with 24 points and got to the line nine times. Luol Deng has not yet made it to Miami, so he will join the team when they return to Chicago. Whether or not he will play in this series is still unknown.
Kirk Hinrich is a game-time decision for Wednesday with his calf injury, but is considered doubtful to play.
Playing without guys has become old hat for the Bulls. Let’s see how they do playing from in front.
May 6, 2013
The Bulls just won a Game 7 on the road for the first time in franchise history, while many of their best players were either out or playing with injuries. And that, as it turns out, was the easy part, because now Chicago has to face heavy championship-favorite Miami.
The Bulls get a full day of rest before taking on Miami Monday night in AmericaAirlines Arena, where the Heat have lost just four games all season. One of those defeats came at the hands of the Bulls, in early January. You may have also heard about the other Bulls’ victory in the series this season, one that put an end to Miami’s 27-game winning streak.
Lots was made of the Bulls “hard fouls” and “tackling” in that streak busting victory, which will surely be a talking point and something to watch throughout the series. But let’s not forget the most flagrant foul of the entire series was when LeBron James lost his cool and elbowed Carlos Boozer. It’s no secret these teams don’t like each other, but to call anything the Bulls have done “cheap” is disingenuous. The Bulls aren’t going to give any easy baskets to their opponent. That goes for the Bobcats or the Heat.
But there’s no question there will be some flagrants in this series. Chicago won’t back down and neither will Miami, but there is a difference between hard fouls and cheap fouls.
If you thought the Bulls faced an uphill battle in Round 1, just wait for this series. You probably won’t be able to find an “expert” picking against the Heat—only Henry Abbot, Bradford Doolittle and Chris Palmer have the series going longer than five games on ESPN.com out of the 17 experts—and rightfully so. Miami cruised through the regular season, piling up a league-best 66 wins, while LeBron nearly unanimously won his fourth MVP award.
The Bulls split the season series with the Heat, with Miami’s victories both coming by double digits, including one game that the Bulls managed just 67 points. Both of Chicago’s victories were by single digits.
There is good news for the Bulls. First, it’s unlikely they can be any more injured than they were in Game 6 and 7 against the Nets. In all seriousness, Joakim Noah has looked better than he has in some time now the last two games out, making it appear like his plantar fasciitis has subsided somewhat. Jo had a huge Game 7, tallying 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks, leading the Bulls to victory.
He was healthy for only two of the four games against Miami, and the Bulls went 1-1 with their starting center. Jo averaged 12.0 points on 45.5 percent from the field, 10.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
Miami will have seven days of rest since sweeping the Bucks in the first round. That gives Dwyane Wade some time to heal from a bruised right knee, but it also opens the possibility of the Heat being a little rusty in Game 1. Wade is expected to play Monday, but with the Bulls still in a rhythm after Game 7 Saturday night, a quick Chicago start could help them steal Game 1.
Luol Deng is officially out for tonight’s game and hasn’t yet joined the team in Miami. Deng received a blood patch to stop spinal fluid leakage after getting a spinal tap to test for meningitis. Deng does just about as good a job as anyone can in trying to slow down LeBron James, and without Lu, it shifts the Bulls defense a little out of whack. With Deng unable to go, Jimmy Butler will probably have to switch from Wade to LeBron. And then Marco Belinelli or Kirk Hinrich (if he is healthy), would have go up against Wade.
The Bulls are 8-8 against the Heat in the Big Three era, but just 1-4 in the playoffs.
May 4, 2013
Luol Deng was in the hospital Friday, possibly for meningitis, after getting a spinal tap prior to Thursday’s game. Nate Robinson was throwing up on the bench during Game 6 because of an illness—a game in which he played 42 minutes. Taj Gibson, suffering from the same illness, struggled through 18 minutes. Joakim Noah is still fighting through plantar fasciitis and his minutes limit is long gone. Kirk Hinrich missed Game 6, but will travel with the team and will be a game-time decision with a calf injury. Derrick Rose hasn’t played all season.
I think that about sums up the Bulls luck heading into a win-or-go-home Game 7 in Brooklyn. It all comes down to Saturday night, and the Bulls roster continues to shrink.
(Quick tangent: Luol Deng defended himself on Twitter Friday, saying it was more than a flu that kept him out. Deng should never have to explain himself for missing a contest. Actually, no professional athlete should ever have to explain why they missed a game, but someone with Deng’s track record should never be questioned. And if you saw the Vine of him leaving the arena, you could tell something was very wrong with him. He has played through countless injuries these past few seasons, while averaging the most minutes per game in the league. Perhaps this is misguided anger at another Chicago Bull, but that’s another story for another time. If Luol Deng thinks he cannot go, and had a spinal tap earlier that day, Luol Deng cannot go and shouldn’t be questioned. It’s that simple. Now back to Game 7.)
Chicago was in a similar place in Game 6 and grinded all the way to the end with a shortened, injury-plagued rotation (with three players coming down with an illness, maybe “plagued” is too accurate). It was a game they had no chance of winning, but yet were still right there at the end with a chance to tie. They should have been in a better spot down the stretch honestly, but Marco Belinelli went 1-5 from three in the fourth quarter (with many of those very makeable, open attempts) and Chicago shot 32.1 percent as a team. Who knows if it would have been different had the Bulls had more rested bodies at the end.
The Bulls dug themselves an early hole, allowing Brooklyn to shoot 65.0 percent in the opening frame, and although Chicago shot 59.1 percent, that’s not how they win games. The Bulls are never going to win a shootout, and giving Brooklyn early confidence is the last thing Joakim Noah and company can afford.
The defense tightened up the rest of the way, holding Brooklyn to 27.8 percent from the field in the second half, but even with that great defensive effort Chicago couldn’t close the gap. The Bulls did hold the Nets to 48.3 percent shooting at the rim (14-29), something that would go a long way in Game 7 if it could be duplicated.
The Bulls have their work cut out for them going on the road for a Game 7. Chicago is 0-6 all-time on the road in Game 7s. Add in their injuries and it’s going to be a huge hill to climb, but if there is any team in the NBA that can do it, it’s the Bulls.
Chicago has shown this year—heck the entire Tom Thibodeau era—that they have a shot in any game they take the court—no matter how few of their players actually take the court. But sometimes those injuries just become too much to overcome, just as they were last season against the Sixers. The Bulls don’t want to be the team that followed up a first round loss as the top seed with the squad that blows a 3-1 lead…even if they have an excuse for both occurrences.
“I’m just very confident our guys are going to take advantage of the (home court) opportunity and continue to do what they’ve done all year,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said Friday.
The Bulls will also do what they have done all year: fight until the last whistle no matter who is out there.
Stopping Deron: Deron Williams is 13-39 from the field with nine turnovers when guarded by Kirk Hinrich; unfortunately Hinrich probably won’t be able to play. That leaves Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler. Williams is 12-24 with four turnovers when guarded by Nate Robinson and 5-14 from the field with six turnovers when Jimmy Butler is on him. So in short, keep Nate away from Deron at all costs.
Stats that may not matter but are somewhat relevant: Home teams have won 80.2 percent of Game 7s (89-22). The Bulls are 3-6 in Game 7s, but 0-6 in Game 7s on the road. The Bulls have not won a winner-take-all game on the road since 1989’s first round against the Cavaliers (this was a Game 5). The Nets are 0-1 all-time in Game 7s.
May 2, 2013
It pains me to say this, because I’ve loved making fun of him (and his contract) all season, but the Bulls clearly missed Kirk Hinrich in Game 5. It wasn’t his 11.3 points on 43.2 percent shooting that he’s averaging this series that left a hole, but it’s his defense on Deron Williams. Williams went 6-14 from the field, which isn’t good, but he took ten foul shots to help him score 23 points. It is unlikely that Hinrich will be able to play through his calf injury, meaning Tom Thibodeau will have to come up with something for slowing down Williams.
Williams did a good job getting to the line, but it was once again Brook Lopez who gave the Bulls the most trouble. The center recorded 28 points and ten boards, six of those rebounds being offensive. Lopez scored 20 points in the paint, hitting 8-14 from that area. He was 1-6 outside the paint, once again showing the importance of pushing Lopez out away from the basket and into lower percentage shots.
Lopez and Williams got their points, which the Bulls could live with. What they can’t live with is the role players toasting them. Gerald Wallace had his second good game this series—which could also be his second good game of the entire year—hitting 5-8 from the field and 2-3 from deep. Andray Blatche also went 5-8, scoring 13 off the bench to go with five boards. C.J. Watson tallied eleven points, and even grabbed two offensive rebounds. Good games from the Nets role players in Game 1 also resulted in a loss for Chicago.
Those three role players hurt the Bulls, but something Chicago knew it would have to stop coming into this series really dug them the deepest hole in Game 5. The Bulls gave up 17 offensive rebounds, after giving up just 36 through the first four games of the series combined. Those 17 boards translated into 24 second-chance points.
And while we are pointing fingers, it’s Luol Deng’s turn. He has failed to step up even with the Bulls two best players out or injured, including his 6-14 for 12 points in Game 5. He’s 1-18 from three in this series. Deng averaged one made three per game for the year. Joakim Noah isn’t getting much healthier than he is now, so Lu needs find his shot and shut down whoever he is guarding at the moment, especially when it’s Gerald Wallace.
Game 5 felt a lot like Game 1 to me. Brooklyn got lots of points in the paint. Their role players contributed. And they pulled away from Chicago to get a pretty convincing win.
All that means Thibs will once again have to make his adjustments, although with Hinrich potentially out, it’ll be tougher. It might be best for Marco Belinelli to start, rather than Nate Robinson. That way Nate could do his normal “shoot all the time” off the bench routine, and Belinelli could guard Joe Johnson, freeing up Jimmy Butler to guard Deron Williams from the start. Starting Nate Robinson is like eating a ton of candy right before dinner; it may sound like a good idea, but you’re going to throw up all over.
Nate, not surprisingly, put up little resistance for Williams, but Butler has done a good job on him all series. This idea of starting Belinelli was tossed around before Game 5, but Thibs decided against it. Given a second chance, maybe he’ll try and switch things up and not allow Deron to get into a rhythm.
Tom Thibodeau could have more on his hands than just figuring out how to replace Hinrich’s defense though. Both Luol Deng and Taj Gibson stayed home on Wednesday because they were sick. Thibs is hopeful they can go, but if not…well if not Vladimir Radmanovic is a possibility to get playing time in the postseason and that’s just scary.
No matter who is out there, this will be the Bulls best chance to close out the Nets as they return to the United Center. Brooklyn’s Andray Blatche said on Wednesday “there’s no doubt in our mind. We are the better team.” That should give whoever is healthy some extra motivation to get that last win.
April 29, 2013
Following a riveting three overtime victory in the United Center, the Bulls have a chance to close out their first round series with the Nets at Barclays Center.
That long game took its toll on the Bulls though. Kirk Hinrich will miss Game 5 with a bruised calf. Hinrich played 60 minutes in the triple overtime thriller, tallying 18 points and 14 assists. Hinrich was in a walking boot at shootaround today, clouding his status for the rest of the week.
With Hinrich out, it’ll be interesting how Tom Thibodeau changes the rotations. Nate Robinson will likely get the start, but he won’t be stopping Deron Williams much. Maybe the Bulls will go with Marco Belinelli at the point, and have Jimmy Butler guard Williams on defense. Who knows, but losing Kirk, especially on the defensive end, is going to really hurt the Bulls.
Hinrich wasn’t the only guy that the long game took a toll on. Joakim Noah’s 25 to 30 minute limit went out the window pretty much in regulation. Noah played just over 28 minutes in regulation, and then played the entire first and second overtimes before fouling out early in the third OT. He recorded just less than 39 minutes, well over the limit mark, but Thibs felt he needed the win and it wasn’t going to come without Noah.
But Noah wasn’t the most important part of this comeback—that distinction goes to the enigma that is Nate Robinson.
When Robinson got clocked by a Gerald Wallace screen, I joked that “you can’t kill Nate, you can only make him angry, which makes him shoot more.” I had no idea the offensive onslaught that was about to come from the little point guard that could. He dropped 23 points in the fourth quarter, on 9-11 from the field and dished two important assists when the Nets were overplaying him. He hit a few ridiculous shots, led by the go-ahead launch that he hit with 1.7 remaining in the first overtime.
Robinson took a game that the Bulls were out of—14 down with less than four minutes to go—and made it one of the most exciting playoff games of the past few years. But his, and the rest of the Bulls’, work is not finished. They have to win one more contest before they can switch their attention to the defending champs.
And that task just got harder with the news that Hinrich is out. Williams was shooting 35.4 percent in Brooklyn’s three losses this series. That’ll be where the Bulls miss Hinrich. Not to say Kirk wasn’t helping on the offensive end, but his defense on Williams was key in three single digit wins. It’s always been a team defense, slowing down Deron, but now that will be the case more than ever.
Marquis Teague might get his first real playoff minutes, after recording seven seconds earlier in the series. Teague scored eight points and had one turnover in 20 minutes against the Nets on December 15. Marco Belinelli, who played just four minutes in Game 4, will also get more run.
It’ll be an uphill battle winning in Brooklyn without two of their starting point guards. But if the Bulls have showed anything all season, including the last four minutes of regulation in Game 4, it’s that you should never count them out.
April 27, 2013
With some help from Brooklyn’s offense, the Bulls’ defense has been fantastic the past two games, helping Chicago to a 2-1 lead in the series. But, not surprisingly, the Bulls haven’t been able to pull away and capture a convincing win.
C.J. Watson missed a chance to tie at the buzzer, but looking at the Nets’ stats, they should have been nowhere near the Bulls. Let’s take a gander at some of the most surprising stats on the Nets’ offense.
Brooklyn shot 9-40 in the first half, which equates to 22.5 percent. They missed 14 shots in a row while Bulls went on 14-0 run—which helped Chicago dig itself out of an early 17-5 hole— that extended into a 28-4 run. During that stretch, the Nets missed 25 of 26 shots. But wait, it doesn’t end there.
Game 2 and Game 3 were two of the four worst shooting nights on the year for Brooklyn at 35.4 percent and 34.6 percent.
And with how terrible they’ve been shooting, John Schuhmann tweeted out a great stat: Reggie Evans has just two offensive rebounds this playoff series. Evans averaged 3.3 offensive boards per game this season. But it’s not just Evans that can’t get any offensive boards, it’s everybody. Brooklyn was third during the regular season in offensive rebounding percentage at 30.9. In Game 3, they had a 15.2 offensive rebounding percentage—their lowest of the season. In Game 2, it was 23.9. Chicago was a middle of the road defensive rebounding team, so credit to Carlos Boozer (keeping Evans off the glass) and the rest of the squad for realizing how important it is to control the defensive rebounds.
(Side note: Boozer’s offense has been great, which has to be connected to him having the ability to purely focus on scoring and rebounding. With the bulk of his minutes coming against Evans, Boozer doesn’t have to worry about pretending to try on defense. He just has to rebound and score, two things he is quite good at.)
Despite all these ugly stats, the Nets still had a chance to tie and steal Game 3. Why? Well because the Bulls offense is never much better than the other team’s. The Bulls had just one field goal in the final seven minutes and of course didn’t hit all their foul shots down the stretch (50 percent in the fourth quarter). This allowed Brooklyn to close the game on a 12-2 run.
But, as has been the case all season, the Bulls did enough to win. This ugly three-point victory counts just the same as Brooklyn’s Game 1 blowout. And the Bulls are fine with winning this way. “It’s not going to be pretty,” Noah said after Game 3. “We have to grind it out, tough it out. This is our style of play. Go out and fight. We’ve dealt with so much this year; to just win is huge. So, it’s not easy, it’s not pretty … but it is rewarding.”
The question is if the Bulls can shut down this Brooklyn offense for three straight games? Or perhaps have its offense come alive, so it doesn’t have to hold the Nets under 90 points to get the victory. You’re right, the first one seems more likely.
Since that Game 1 shellacking, the Bulls have done exactly what they needed to do. They’ve protected the paint (Nets went 15-28 at the rim and 19-39 in the paint), shut down the role players (combined 6-28 for Gerald Wallace, Andray Blatche, Jerry Stackhouse and C.J. Watson in Game 3) and made everything tough on Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
Lopez has been the only consistent scorer for Brooklyn, averaging 21.3 points on 48.9 percent from the field. Stopping a 7-footer with solid range is tough, especially without Joakim Noah fully healthy, but if the Bulls can continue to hold everyone else down, they won’t need to stop Lopez. The only guy slowing down Lopez effectively is P.J. Carlesimo, who has decided to play the center 34.0 minutes per game. Maybe this is the Bulls fan in me, as I’ve seen a starting center get run into the ground 40 minutes per night, but Lopez should be getting more run. It’s the playoffs and he has been their only consistent scorer. Tim Duncan is averaging about 34 minutes per contest in the postseason, and no one takes it easier on their big guy than Gregg Popovic.
The wins aren’t pretty or all that great to watch for a casual fan, but it’s the way the Bulls are built to do it. “We did what we had to do to win the game,” Boozer said. “In the playoffs, you have to win different ways. Nothing is perfect.”
I don’t think anybody will confuse what the Bulls are doing for “perfect,” but a 3-1 series lead with Rose out and Noah hobbling would be as close as this team can get.
Stat of the day: The Nets haven’t won a road playoff game since April, 21 2007, a 96-91 victory at Toronto.