The Bulls were embarrassed and humbled by their blowout loss in Game 1 of this first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. But under coach Tom Thibodeau, this has never been a group to hang its head and meekly accept defeat. Despite the ongoing absence of Derrick Rose and a variety of guys playing through pain, Bulls fans had to know their team was going have a much better showing in Game 2.
And they did.
As usual, the Bulls did it with their defense, which is usually rock solid but utterly failed them in Game 1. Last night, Chicago’s D limited the Nets to 35.4 percent shooting — including 4-for-21 on three-pointers — and a scoring rate of only 91.4 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
Deron Williams, who was a one-man wrecking crew on Saturday, scored only 8 points on 1-for-9 shooting and missed all five of this three-point attempts. After their Game 1 revival, Gerald Wallace (2 points, 1-for-7, 3 rebounds) and Joe Johnson (6-for-18) came back down to earth. And Andray Blatche (8 points on 4-for-9 shooting) and C.J. Watson (10 points on identical 4-for-9 shooting) were unable to find the hot hands they had over the weekend.
Aggressive hands in the face will do that.
Then too, the Bulls forced the Nets into much tougher shots. After scoring 56 points in the paint in Game 1, Brooklyn finished Game 3 with only 30.
Now let’s talk about the third quarter.
After a slow start that saw them shoot 6-for-18 in the first quarter, the Nets caught fire in the second, scoring 29 points on 12-for-21 shooting to pull to within one point (47-46) by halftime. The Bulls made a series of defensive mistakes in that second quarter, like repeatedly leaving Brook Lopez open for long jumpers instead of rotating and contesting them. As a result, Lopez burned them with a trio of 20-footers. And after Lopez stole a careless pass from Luol Deng in the closing seconds of the quarter, Williams found Watson on the fast break, and Nate Robinson didn’t close out quickly enough. Thus the Nets ended the half with what felt like a momentum-building three-ball.
But events didn’t unfold according to Brooklyn’s script.
The Bulls played lock down defense in that third quarter, limiting the Nets to just 11 points on 2-for-19 shooting. Chicago forced Brooklyn into a steady stream of long, contested jumpers. And when the Nets did dare to attack the basket, a Bulls defender was there to intimidate or block the shot.
Here’s the breakdown, with scoring plays in bold:
11:38: Joe Johnson missed 19-footer
11:11: Brook Lopez missed 17-footer
10:29: Deron Williams missed 20-footer
9:56: Deron Williams missed layup 9:55: Brook Lopez 2-for-2 from the foul line
9:33: Gerald Wallace turnover
9:00: Joe Johnson missed 18-footer
8:25: Brook Lopez missed layup (blocked by Luol Deng) 7:56: Deron Williams 2-for-2 from the foul line
7:09: Deron Williams missed 25-foot three-pointer 6:35: Deron Williams made 7-footer 6:09: Brook Lopez 1-for-2 at the foul line 5:45: Reggie Evans dunk
4:52: Joe Johnson turnover
4:31: Joe Johnson missed 24-foot three-pointer
3:47: Brook Lopez missed layup
3:46: Gerald Wallace missed tip shot
3:00: Joe Johnson missed 11-footer (blocked by Jimmy Butler)
2:58: Brook Lopez offensive rebound and turnover
2:42: Gerald Wallace missed layup (blocked by Jimmy Butler) 1:58: Brook Lopez 2-for-2 from the line
1:22: Gerald Wallace missed 22-footer
0:50: C.J. Watson missed 11-footer
0:25: Deron Williams missed 26-foot three-pointer
0:24: Andray Blatch missed layup (blocked by Nazr Mohammed)
0:01: Andray Blatch missed 17-footer
The Bulls didn’t just shut down the Nets in the third quarter, they also executed their own offense, shooting 9-for-17 from the field and building a 71-57 lead heading into the fourth.
That’s when Joakim Noah took the Bulls home.
Noah — who was clearly hobbled and struggled with early foul trouble — had 9 points, 6 rebounds and a blocked shots over the final 12 minutes to finish with a double-double (11 points, 4-for-8, 10 rebounds).
The Nets had actually trimmed a 14-point Bulls lead (73-59) to only five (73-68) with 7:39 remaining when Thibodeau subbed Noah back into the game. Less than a minute later, this happened:
Then, after Chris Humphries blew a layup on the other end, Carlos Boozer missed a 17-footer…but Noah ripped down the offensive rebound. Five seconds later, Robinson drilled a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to 10 points (78-68). Less than a minute later, there was Noah again, scoring on a layup that put Chicago ahead by an even dozen.
Even in the final minute, as the Nets were making their desperate (and doomed) ralley, Noah was there to shut them down. And let loose a primal scream.
This is a man who will never, ever, ever give up.
Said Thibodeau: ”I thought overall, I thought Jo was very rusty in the first game but willed it, and I thought he willed it again tonight and we needed every bit of it. To me, it’s obvious we’re a much better team with him on the floor.”
Added Boozer: ”Gutsy. Come on man, you know what he’s going through. Every game is a tough game for him. I went through the same thing two years ago with my little turf toe. I’m just proud of him. He’s going out there gutting it for us every night.”
That’s for sure.
Speaking of gutting it out, Kirk Hinrich shook off the effects of his bruised thigh to score 13 points, dish out 5 assists, and play fantastic defense on Williams.
Let’s face it. Noah was the heart and soul of this win, to be sure, but it was still a total team effort. The Bulls got double-doubles from both Boozer (13 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists) and Deng (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists). Robinson (11 points, 2 assists, 2 steals) provided some timely baskets off the bench. And Nazr Mohammed (8 points, 4-for-5, 2 rebounds) provided a big lift when Noah was struggling with rust and foul problems.
And just like that, the Bulls stole homecourt advantage from the Nets.
With a 90-82 win over Brooklyn in Game 2, the Bulls head back to Chicago tied 1-1 in the series.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): I’m going to give it to two guys who really stepped up: Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed. Noah tallied 11 points, ten rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 26 minutes…and all of that on one foot. Seriously, what Noah did was amazing. His 25-minute limit turned into a little 25:29, but his nine points, six rebounds (three offensive) and one block in the fourth were enormous when the Bulls were trying to hold onto the lead. Mohammed did a great job filling in for Noah when he was resting. Nazr hit 4-5 from the field for eight points. It doesn’t sound like much, but he scored more than eight points just five times during the regular season.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Deron Williams looked like his second-half-of-the-season, former All-Star self in Game 1. In Game 2, he looked like—well I’m not sure, but I could sure get on board with it. Deron hit just 1-9 from the field, including 0-5 from three, and finished with eight points. If Nazr Mohammed is matching Deron Williams in scoring, that is the best news the Bulls can get. Joe Johnson also has a poor game, scoring 17 points on 18 shots.
Defining Moment: Fighting that plantar fasciitis, Joakim Noah made a diving save off of a Bulls’ miss and tossed it to Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich made a touch pass to Nate Robinson who drilled a three. That pushed the Bulls lead to ten (78-68) with 6:15 remaining. It was the epitome of Joakim Noah. Playing through an awful injury and still giving his all, making an important hustle play when the Bulls needed one.
X factor: The Nets shot 2-of-19 in the third quarter and missed their last 10 shots in the frame. That helped the Bulls turn a one-point halftime lead into a 12-point advantage heading into the fourth. Another important stat: Brooklyn was 14-30 at the rim in Game 2, after shooting 22-27 in the opening game (Chicago hit 20-35 at the rim Monday). The Bulls made necessary adjustments to protect the paint, and it paid off with a win.
That Was … better, but still not there: Chicago got the win, but it was far from convincing. Although the Bulls’ defense was much improved from Game 1, the Nets missed a bunch of easy shots, and as noted above, went 2-19 in a quarter. The win is all that matters, but I’m not sure Brooklyn is going to miss that many open looks in another game in this series.
Game 1: Brooklyn wins 106-89 Nets lead series 1-0 Brooklyn: Brook Lopez: 21 points, 5 rebounds Deron Williams: 22 points, 7 assists Chicago: Carlos Boozer: 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists Nate Robinson: 17 points
Almost nothing went right for the Bulls in their opening game of the postseason and it was over before halftime. If playoff series are all about adjustments, Tom Thibodeau has a chance to show how good of a coach he is. It’ll be an uphill battle, but there are plenty of changes he can make.
Chicago got beaten in every facet of the game. Brooklyn’s stars showed up (Brook Lopez had 21 points and Deron Williams had 22), while the Bulls’ stars were sidelined (Rose), hobbled (Noah) or invisible (Deng). When Carlos Boozer leads your team in points, rebounds and assists, something has gone terribly wrong.
What I would suggest? Do everything differently—everything.
The Bulls gave up 40 points in the paint in the first half, while managing to score 35 total points. They let the Nets convert 20 of 24 shots at the rim for the game and 8 of 12 shots from 3-9 feet. That’s 28-36 inside of nine feet. The Bulls cannot allow that type of conversion if they want to win this series.
The guy who did the most damage in the paint was Brook Lopez. Brooklyn’s center was 7-8 at the rim and 7-7 from the line, meaning all 21 of his points came from those two areas. He was 0-1 from 3-9 feet and 0-5 from 16-23 feet. That shows how imperative it is for the Bulls to keep Lopez away from the basket.
Unfortunately, Lopez showed that Taj Gibson can’t guard him on the block. Lopez was too strong for Taj, leaving the only options either Boozer or Nazr Mohammed (Noah didn’t play enough minutes to be a factor). As much as the idea of playoff minutes for Nazr probably scares Bulls fans, it may be a necessity. Because if Chicago cannot find a way to make it harder for Lopez to score—preferably pushing him out and forcing him to shoot midrange jumpers instead getting buckets at the rim—then this series will be over quickly.
Stopping, or rather slowing, Lopez and Deron Williams would be nice, but the Bulls may want to focus on stopping the role players. During the regular season, Lopez scored 22.0 points per game against the Bulls. Williams added 19.8 in the four games with Chicago. So that combination averaged 42 points against the Bulls in the regular season, and scored 43 in Game 1. News flash: the Bulls didn’t lose by one point.
It was the other guys that hurt the Bulls more. C.J. Watson (OF ALL PEOPLE) went 6-8 for 14 points off the bench. Gerald Wallace woke up from his season slumber to score 14 points (5-7 FG) as well. Joe Johnson tallied four assists and four rebounds to go along with his 16 points. And Andray Blatche dropped 12. Hell, even Reggie Evans scored five points (Evans averaged 4.5 points this season).
Lopez and Williams are star players. It will be very tough to stop them. With Noah either out or a couple of steps slow, it will be even tougher to handle Lopez and protect the rim in general. But the Bulls have been doing that all season. Chicago was seventh best in the league at protecting the rim, holding teams to 63.0 percent from there. They also held opponents to 38.9 from 3-9 feet. Chicago will need to get closer to those numbers to keep this series within reach.
K.C. Johnson says that it’s possible either Marco Belinelli or Rip Hamilton may be bumped out of the rotation. I have my fingers crossed that it’s Rip. He was dreadful in game one, and considering Hamilton played just seven minutes compared to 20 for Belinelli, I’d say Thibs knows who should sit as well.
The bigger news is that Noah is apparently going to give it a go again tonight. He wasn’t good in Game 1, hobbling through 13 minutes of action in which he recorded four points and five boards. I don’t know if Joakim can do any more damage to the injury by playing on it, but at this point, in his bruised state, I’m also not sure he is doing the Bulls a ton of good. Although an injured Noah was far the Bulls only problem.
“The thing is, we’re disappointed. We played poorly and we have to change the mentality. We have to correct the mistakes,” Thibodeau said after the loss.
Usually, Thibs does a great job of correcting the Bulls errors, at least on defense, and getting them to respond and come out strong after a loss. Game 2 is when the adjustments take place and if Thibs can get the Bulls protecting the rim, Chicago can get right back in this series.
Boozer added: “We feel like we got our butts kicked, in the first half especially, but we didn’t play our best game. We all felt we can do so much more. That’s where it’s at. To a man we’ve got to do a lot better.”
The Bulls did do better in each one of the four regular season games they played against Brooklyn. They need to protect the rim, contain the role players and show that they belong in this series.
As awful as that game was—and we all know it was awful, probably one of the worst defeats under Tom Thibodeau—it still just counts as one loss. Meaning if the Bulls win in Game 2, whether by two points or 20, they are tied in the series.
Historically speaking, Game 1 blowouts aren’t necessarily indicative of how a series will proceed.
Just ask the Bulls. They defeated the Miami Heat by 21 points in Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and then went on to lose the next four games. Whether a team loses by one point or one hundred, it’s still only one loss.
That said, this particular loss was pretty discouraging.
The Bulls got a big offensive game out of Carlos Boozer (25 points, 12-for-20, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Nate Robinson (17 points, 8-for-12, 1 assist) provided some scoring punch off the bench.
Unfortunately, too many other Bulls came up shooting blanks.
Joakim Noah — who had been listed as doubtful for Game 1 and possibly even iffy for the entire series — hobbled out for the starting tip. But his unexpected appearance wasn’t exactly the second coming of Willis Reed. Noah played 13:27 ineffective minutes, finishing with 4 points on 2-for-6 shooting and 5 rebounds. He looked rusty. He looked hurt. And his performance raised the inevitable question: should he be playing at all?
Said Buls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”The thing is he hasn’t practiced so he’s going to be rusty, but I’d rather have him out there. Whatever he can give us is a plus. We didn’t play well. It wasn’t Jo, it was our team. So he’s a big plus for our team, so we’d like to have him out there. We’ve got to play better. Everyone has to play better.”
That “everybody” certainly includes poor Luol Deng (6 points, 3-for-11, 3 assists, 2 rebounds), who looked and played like he’d aged in dog years during the regular season. Maybe that’s the price to be paid for leading the league in minutes per game for two seasons in a row. And Gerald Wallace — who had a terrible season by his standards and even admitted recently that “my confidence is totally gone” — thoroughly outplayed Deng by scoring 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Said Deng: ”He’s a good player. He had a good night tonight, but it’s one of those things. I play hard, I battle, so I’m just looking at it as I had a bad game tonight. We lost one, but we’ll bounce back next game.”
Let’s hope so.
Adding to Chicago’s misery was the fact that Kirk Hinrich was held without a field goal and finished with the team’s worst plus-minus score (-19) in the 28 minutes he played before leaving the game with a leg injury. And as it turns out, his performance was historically bad.
Kirk Hinrich had 2 points and 2 assists in 28 minutes. His 4 combined points and assists are the fewest by any Bulls starting point guard that played at least 25 minutes in an NBA playoff game in the last 15 seasons. Coincidentally, the next 2 players on this list are Kirk Hinrich as well. It’s safe to say the Bulls need Derrick Rose back.
Well, of course the Bulls need Rose back, but unfortunately Thibodeau has all but ruled out any possibility that may happen: ”He’s most likely out but you never know. The playoffs are stretched out, too, so you have to factor that in. So who knows another week from now where he is? You always want to leave that possibility open.”
Nope. Superman won’t be flying to the rescue. Not this season anyway.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine how Rose’s return could revive a previously rock-solid defense that got absolutely blistered. The Nets shot 55.8 percent from the field, scored 56 points in the paint and committed only 8 turnovers. And if all that doesn’t flabber your gast, then this will: Brooklyn scored at the mind-boggling rate of 125 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
And here’s how truly awful Chicago’s interior defense was: the Nets were 20-for-24 (83.4 percent) at the rim and 8-for-12 (66.7 percent) from 3-9 feet. Basically, if they got anywhere close to the basket, they scored.
Thanks to a miserable 7-for-23 shooting effort and a 9-2 Brooklyn run to end the first quarter, the Bulls were already behind 25-14 heading into the second. And that’s when the hammer really came down: Brooklyn shot 16-for-20 during the second quarter and went into halftime with a 60-35 lead.
Believe it or not, the Bulls actually shot really well in the third and fourth quarters — 11-for-19 and 10-for-16 respectively — and even outscored Brooklyn 27-17 over the final 12 minutes. Unfortunately, the game had been decided long before that.
Said Thibodeau: ”It was the end of the first [quarter] and they hit us with a haymaker, got us back on our heels. So end of the first, second quarter, poor defense, poor intensity, poor energy on offense. You can’t win like that.”
Added Noah: ”We played so poorly. We didn’t play well offensively. We didn’t execute; playoffs is all about executing. We didn’t execute the defensive game plan, we didn’t execute the offensive game plan. We’ll watch film and we’ll definitely come out with a better effort on Monday.”
Noah is probably right. That’s been this team’s modus operandi during the Tom Thibodeau era. They rarely drop two games in a row and they almost always have a big bounce back after a loss.
And let’s face it, the Nets will almost certainly regress to the mean. Sure, Deron Williams (22 points, 9-for-15, 7 assists) and Brook Lopez (22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) will probably get theirs, but will Wallace have another efficient game? Will Joe Johnson (16 points, 7-for-13, 4 assists)? Or how about Andray Blatche (12 points, 6-for-11, 3 rebounds) and C.J. Watson (14 points, 6-for-8, 1 assist)?
It’s also a safe bet that — after watching film and getting an earful from Thibodeau — Chicago’s interior defense won’t be nearly as passive as it was last night.
That said, there are still some big questions. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that Hinrich will likely play in Game 2. And Noah said “Hell yeah, I’ll be out there” when asked if he would be available on Monday. But there’s no telling how effective either man will be. And they are absolutely critical if the Bulls have any hope of slowing Williams and defending Brooklyn’s forays into the paint.
But this is the playoffs. Anything can happen. And we all know these Bulls won’t give up.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): Deron Williams looked great carving up any defender the Bulls put on him, tallying 22 points (9-15 from the field), seven assists and three steals. Williams had an impressive second half to the season, and if this is how he is going to play in the series the Bulls are in deep, deep trouble.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): This could really go to every single player on the Bulls with the exception of Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson, but Luol Deng was especially bad. Deng went 3-11 to score just six points. With Joakim Noah hobbled and Derrick Rose out, Deng needed to step up and he didn’t. Also, Rip Hamilton looked absolutely dreadful in seven minutes of action…which is why he played just seven minutes.
Defining Moment: Late in the third quarter, Deron Williams stole the ball from Luol Deng and took it the other way for an emphatic reverse dunk. The game was over before then (the Bulls were down 25 at that point), but that put the cap on a terrible game for Chicago.
X factor: The Nets had 40 points in the paint in the first half. The Bulls had 35 total points in the first half. If that doesn’t explain the game, I don’t know what does.
That Was … awful: The only positive that could come out of this is that maybe it was rock bottom. Tom Thibodeau will rip into the Bulls, showing them everything they did wrong on the defensive end (which could potentially take a week). Hopefully they can sure some of the leaks up, find a tiny amount of offense and come back and make this a series.
Noah admitted what many had feared: the games down the stretch that he tried to play in worsened the injury. “I’ve got a tear in my foot. I’ve got a tear in my foot, so it is what it is,” Noah said. “I’m upset at myself because I let this linger for a long time, and I have nobody to blame but myself. I just wish that I was a little bit smarter. I played games in the regular season that I probably shouldn’t have played. It’s going to be tough, but these are the cards I was dealt, and I’ll just do the best that I can to get back as quick as I can.”
That means the task of slowing down Brook Lopez, who had the fifth best PER in the league this season, falls on Nazr Mohammed. At least to start.
“It was a master plan,” Mohammed said with a laugh. “[Thibodeau] told me when I signed here they were going to save me all year and then unleash me at the end of the season. Nah, it’s one of those things; that’s how the season is.”
It’s unclear how much time Nazr will actually get filling in for Jo. Nazr played 37 minutes against the Nets when Chicago was without both Noah and Gibson. But when Carlos Boozer and Noah were out, he logged just eight minutes (in the two games Noah was healthy, he played three and four minutes). So he’ll will play somewhere between eight and 40 minutes…you’re welcome for narrowing that down. My guess would be somewhere in the middle, closer to 20. I expect a lot of Taj-Boozer tandem, as Taj can guard Lopez.
Noah’s injury also hurts the Bulls rebounding. Brooklyn has two very good offensive rebounders in Lopez and Reggie Evans. Evans’ was first in offensive rebounding percentage and total rebound percentage, while Lopez was just outside of the top 20 in offensive rebounding percentage. It’s going to take a full team effort for the Bulls to keep the Nets off the offensive glass. Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler are both solid rebounders, as is Boozer. Taj Gibson hopefully won’t be hindered with his knee injury very much, because he will need to be out there both to rebound and to slow Lopez’s scoring.
It’ll be a lot to overcome Noah’s absence, especially considering the improved play of Deron Williams. Brooklyn’s point guard averaged 24.6 points per contest in April on 52.4 percent shooting. Before the All-Star game, Williams shot just 41.3 percent and scored 16.7 points per contest.
After last season’s first round “upset” at the hands of Philadelphia when Noah and Derrick Rose wet down for the series, Bulls’ fans hoped next season would be different. Unfortunately Chicago is in a similar place, without there two best players, fighting an uphill battle. At least this year the Bulls had extensive experience playing sans Rose and Noah.
Matt and I break down what we believe are the most important questions heading into the first round between the Bulls and Nets, starting off with that pesky one that has been there all year.
Will we see Derrick Rose in the playoffs?
Matt McHale: No. If Derrick was going to return, he would have (or, rather, should have) done it with at least a few games left in the regular season, if only to get into some sort of rhythm and develop chemistry with his teammates. Given how cautious Rose has been to this point, it’s difficult to imagine he’d come back in the meat grinder of the NBA playoffs.
Braedan Ritter: Even though Tom Thibodeau said he wouldn’t rule out Rose, I’m going to guess we don’t see the former MVP on the court. I’ve been OK with Rose sitting out this season from the beginning, because sitting out the season is what management did as well. Rose doesn’t feel confident, and as much as that stinks, the Bulls have managed to go 3-1 against Brooklyn without him this year. With all this said, if Rose decided to come back, I’d be ecstatic and scream more than a 13-year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
How healthy will Joakim Noah be for the first round? (Update: Joakim Noah is doubtful for Game 1. Nazr Mohammed will start)
MM: Not very. Plantar faciitis doesn’t go away in a few days or even a few weeks. Only extended rest and therapy will help, and Noah won’t have the luxury of time off until the Bulls’ season has ended. At best, Noah will be hobbled for the entirety of the playoffs. The question is: how effective can someone who relies on effort and hustle be on one foot?
BR: Noah played the last two games of the season, not looking well in either of them as he logged 14 minutes in each contest. Plantar fasciitis only heals with rest, and Noah could have rested from March 23 until the playoffs start on April 20—nearly a month. Instead he played three somewhat meaningless games and looked quite rusty or injured or both in the final two. Anyway, to finally answer the question, I don’t expect a ton from Noah. I think he will fight through the pain to play a few games, and I just hope he’s good enough to keep Nazr Mohammed off the court for any period of time.
Which player match-up are you most interested in seeing?
MM: I’m really curious to see the match-up between Kirk Hinrich and Deron Williams. Will Kirk — with ample help from Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes — be able to slow down Williams, who has been on an absolute tear for the last month of the season? Because that could be the key to how this series goes.
BR: Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez. I am saying this matchup mostly because I want to see Noah on the court. We only got to see these two battle twice in the regular season. Noah averaged 16.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.5 steals against Brooklyn this year. Lopez recorded 20.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks when Noah participated. Deron Williams turned it on at the end of the season, but Lopez was their best player for most of the year, posting the fifth best PER in the league this season. If Noah is out, then my focus will shift to Kirk Hinrich vs. Deron Williams.
Who is the most important player on the Bulls?
MM: With the way this season has gone, I don’t think there’s any one “most important player” on this Bulls team. These players rely heavily on each other and Thibodeau’s defensive system to get through. Although it’s a fair bet that Noah’s ability to play through plantar faciitis will be crucial, given that he is the anchor of Chicago’s defense and the guy who will be relied on to deter Williams when he inevitably beats Hinrich off the dribble.
BR: Carlos Boozer averaged 21.3 points on 53.8 percent shooting to go with 10.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.7 assists. I think he often gets a bad rap in the playoffs, but in last year’s playoffs, Boozington averaged just 13.5 points on 42.2 percent shooting. He posted a 79 offensive rating to a 95 defensive rating and have a 9.8 PER. Boozer will need to score, but it’s also important he help keep Reggie Evans and Brook Lopez off the offensive glass. If Noah misses a significant amount of the series, Boozer becomes even more important.
More crucial player for the Bulls to stop: Deron Williams or Brook Lopez?
MM: It’s Williams for sure. Lopez can score — and he scored easily and often against the Bulls this season — but that’s about it. His defense is iffy and his rebounding is weak. But Williams is the kind of player who can have an impact in virtually every area. He is the engine that runs the Brooklyn machine. Stopping him, or at least slowing him significantly, is the primary key to stopping the Nets.
BR: I’m going to lean towards Brook Lopez, because of his offensive rebounding. It’s no secret the Bulls struggle to score points, and because of that they need to shut the opponent down. Brook Lopez’s offensive rebound percentage was 10.8, putting him just outside the top 20 in the league. Brooklyn’s center averaged 22.0 points on 52.9 percent from the field in the four contest against the Bulls (but remember Noah missed two of these games). If Chicago can hold Lopez off the glass and limit second chance points it’ll go a long way.
How does the series shake out?
MM: Williams is back in All-Star form and Lopez can score on Chicago’s big men, but the Nets may not have enough firepower past those two. If Noah and Taj Gibson can avoid re-injuring themselves and combine to give the Bulls some version of their old interior defense, I see the Bulls winning this series in six games.
BR: I think the Bulls win in six. This could definitely change depending on the health of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, but the Bulls did grab a two-point win when those two were out in the final regular season meeting with Brooklyn. Either way I assume Taj will be healthy enough to contribute and he can guard Brook Lopez well enough to survive. I expect the games to be close, just as they were in the regular season, but the Bulls defense will lead them through this series. If Noah can’t go much in the series, let’s pretend I never wrote any of this.
Game 1 in Brooklyn: Saturday at 7 p.m.
Game 2 in Brooklyn: Monday at 7 p.m.
Game 3 in Chicago: Thursday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Game 4 in Chicago on Saturday, April 27 at 1 p.m.
Game 5* in Brooklyn on Monday, April 29 (TBD)
Game 6* in Chicago on Thursday, May 2 (TBD)
Game 7* in Brooklyn on Saturday, May 4 (TBD)
The Bulls won the season series 3-1. Here’s a breakdown of those f our games:
December 15, 2012: Bulls win 83-83 in Chicago behind Marco Belinelli (19 points) and Joakim Noah (12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots). Kirk Hinrich missed the game with a knee injury, which meant a big game for Deron Williams (24 points, 10-for-13 from the free throw line, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block). Still, the Bulls got key stops down the stretch, and rookie Marquis Teague (20 minutes, 8 points, 4-for-6, 2 assists) forced Williams into a tough miss in the closing seconds. Said Teague: ”I was just trying to contain him, just keep him in front of me. It’s hard to keep a player like that from scoring.”
It’s probably worth noting that the Nets were playing their fourth game in five nights and were coming off a double-overtime game against the Pistons the night before. It’s also worth noting that Brook Lopez (18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) played just 25 minutes in his second game back after missing seven games with a right foot injury.
The Bulls held Brooklyn to 38 percent shooting and outscored them 42-30 in the paint, but the Nets outrebounded the Bulls 41-33.
February 1: Nets win 93-89 in Brooklyn behind Brook Lopez (20 points, 9-for-16, 4 rebounds) and strong play off the bench from MarShon Brooks (13 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Andray Blatche (11 points, 5-for-7, 3 rebounds). The Bulls — who were without Carlos Boozer (hamstring), Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis) and Kirk Hinrich (right elbow) — actually had a four-point lead going after three quarters but then shot 8-for-18 and got outscored 30-22 in the fourth. In fact, Chicago’s fourth quarter points were matched by Brooks and Blatche alone. Said Joe Johnson: ”MarShon and Blatche, man, carried us in that fourth quarter.”
The always short-handed Bulls got 18 points a piece from Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli plus a double-double from Nate Robinson (12 points and 11 assists) and a near double-double from Taj Gibson (16 points and 9 rebounds).
The Nets shot 52 percent and outscored the Bulls 56-44 in the paint. Brooklyn also won the rebounding battle 40-29. Meanwhile, Chicago was 1-for-14 from three-point range.
March 2: Bulls win 96-85 in Chicago behind the frontcourt dominance of Joakim Noah (21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, 2 steals) and Carlos Boozer (20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, 1 blocked shot). As usual, the Bulls were two men down — Rip Hamilton (back spasms) and Taj Gibson (knee) — and Luol Deng was still recovering from getting elbowed in the mouth by Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes two days prior…a blow that left with internal bleeding in the mouth (Deng went on to say his “whole bottom jaw is out of line” and that he may eventually need root canals to repair the damage).
Brook Lopez scored 14 points in the first quarter and finished with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting. However, thanks to Kirk Hinrich’s pesky defense, Deron Williams (14 points, 4-for-12, 6 assists) had a very average game. Note that Joe Johnson (11 points, 5-for-10, 5 turnovers) was playing in his second game back after missing three games with a foot injury.
The Bulls shot 52 percent while the Nets committed 21 turnovers for 24 points going the other way.
April 4: The Bulls win 92-90 in Brooklyn behind a monster game from Carlos Boozer (29 points, 12-for-22, 18 rebounds) and strong performances from Luol Deng (18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) and Jimmy Butler (16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block). This win was especially impressive considering the Bulls pulled it off on the road without Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain), Rip Hamilton (back spasms) and Taj Gibson (knee injury). All that and Kirk Hinrich fouled out with 3:38 remaining.
Said Nate Robinson (12 points, 4-for-8, 5 assists): “For us, it’s big. Kirk fouled out. You got Marco out. Rip out. D-Rose out. Taj out. Guys are just stepping up, man, and that’s what teams do. You got Jo out and [Nazr Mohammed] stepping in for him. These guys are coming in and it’s like old school wrestling. Tag team. You know when one guy goes in, tag him, the other guy go out. Back and forth. We just got to keep playing and keep doing that, we’ll be OK.”
On defense, the Bulls got lit up by Deron Williams (30 points, 9-for-16, 10 assists) and Brook Lopez (28 points, 10-for-19, 5 rebounds). Of course, Lopez scored 18 of those points on 8-for-9 shooting in the first quarter then scored only 10 on 2-for-10 shooting over the final three quarters. Lopez also turned goat in the final minute by turning the ball over, getting a layup attempt stuffed and then missing a baseline jumper in the closing seconds that would have forced overtime. Joe Johnson (12 points, 4-for-11, 2 steals) was playing his first game back after missing five games with a sore left heel.
The Bulls dominated the boards (46-30) and scored 21 points off 16 Brooklyn turnovers. The Nets kept things even by going to the line 30 times.
In terms of production by position, the Nets usually win the point guard and center match-ups thanks to the play of Deron Williams (18.9 PPG, 7.7 APG, 20.3 PER) and Brook Lopez (19.4 PPG, 52% shooting, 24.7 PER). This will put a lot of pressure on Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah on defense. This means that Noah’s plantar faciitis could be a huge factor in this series. Lopez averaged 22 points on 53 percent shooting in four games against the Bulls this season…and that can’t be allowed to continue.
Williams had that one big game against the Bulls, but his overall numbers against Chicago’s D were pretty humble (19.8 PPG, 42% shooting, 6.8 APG, 3.2 TO). Still, Williams was on fire in April, averaging 24.6 points and 8.4 assists while shooting 52 percent over that eight-game stretch.
As for the Bulls, their biggest upsides in terms of production by position were at the small forward and power forward positions. And Carlos Boozer certainly had his way with the Nets, averaging 21.3 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 54 percent against them. And note that Boozer missed Chicago’s only loss to the Nets with a hamstring injury.
Unfortunately, Deng didn’t have quite as much success. In the four-game series, Deng averaged 15.3 points on 39 percent shooting to go with 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Still, assuming a reasonably healthy roster, the Bulls have a major size advantage over the Nets. With Boozer, Deng, Gibson, Noah and Mohammed, Chicago will need to bully Brooklyn inside and dominate the rebounding battle. The Bulls will have to be especially mindful of their defensive backboards because the Nets are a premier offensive rebounding team.
Assuming the Bulls frontcourt can impose its will while slowing down Lopez, that leaves Bulls coach Tom Thibodea with the task for designing defensive schemes to neutralize Williams. Considering the job he’s done on superstars like Kobe Bryant in the past, I’d be willing to bet Thibs (with help from Hinrich and possibly even Jimmy Butler) comes up with something.
If Thibodeau’s schemes focus on stopping Lopez and Williams, then guys like Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace are going to have to really pick up their games, which didn’t happen against the Bulls in the regular season.
In many ways — and perhaps fittingly — last night’s regular-season finale seemed to epitomize the roller coaster ride the Bulls have been on all season.
With Derrick Rose’s season officially a wash (even if no official announcement to that effect has been made), the Bulls had a chance to secure the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Washington Wizards. Not that they needed to, with the Atlanta Hawks apparently throwing their final two games by “resting” key players. The theory isn’t that the Hawks necessarily wanted a first round match-up with the third-seeded Indiana Pacers any more than they wanted one with the fourth-seeded Brooklyn Nets. Rather, the Hawks seemingly hoped to avoid a second round match-up (and certain elimination) against the Miami Heat.
Of course, that assumes the Hawks — who finished the season by losing 15 of their last 26 games — will actually make it to the second round. Which certainly isn’t a given. But it’s cute that they’re planning ahead just in case.
As is their way, the Bulls weren’t concerned about seeding or playoff match-ups in any round, they just wanted to play well and win their final game. Maybe develop some much-needed chemistry after a season that saw them lose a staggering 188 player games due to injury. This isn’t a team that concedes anything for any reason.
And in the first quarter, the Bulls looked ready to take care of business and seize their playoff destiny by the throat. They shot 14-for-24, led by as many as 21 points, and finished the quarter with a 31-15 lead.
However, where the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls are concerned, nothing is ever quite that easy.
After shooting a miserable 5-for-20 during the first quarter, the Wizards went 12-for-23 in the second, outscoring the Bulls 32-21 and pulling to within 52-47 by halftime. From that point on, the game was a dog fight, with the Bulls unable to contain A.J. Price (24 points), John Wall (23 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) or Chris Singleton (13 points, 6-for-10, 7 rebounds).
Still, every time it looked like the Wizards were poised to take the game over, the Bulls got a timely three-pointer from somebody. Kirk Hinrich hit a very long three (for him) with 9:53 left in the third quarter after the Wizards had closed to within 54-48. After Washington had gotten to within 69-66 with less than a minute left in the third, Nate Robinson beat the shot clock with a 26-footer of his own.
Jimmy Butler drilled a three less than a minute into the fourth quarter after the Wizards had clawed to within 74-70. And when they got to within 77-73, Robinson nailed another triple. Then, with 1:42 and the Wizards down 89-85, Luol Deng joined the three-party with a nearly arc-less 25-footer.
Price and Wall made the final minute and a half pretty interesting by scoring a quick seven points, but Hinrich went 1-for-2 at the line to forge a three-point lead with 17 seconds to go, and the Bulls managed to play enough defense at the end to hold on.
So yeah. It was as easy as all that.
Said Joakim Noah: ”We proved this year that we can beat the best and lose to the worst. Up-and-down year. It’s been a tough year.”
Well and accurately put.
The Bulls got strong performances from their starters:
Carlos Boozer had another double-double (19 points and 15 rebounds). In that department, he finished fifth in the league with 44, behind only Zach Randolph (45), Nikola Vucevic (46), Dwight Howard (48) and David Lee (56). Boozer also had 4 assists and a plus-minus score of +13.
Hinrich had one of his best games of the season: 25 minutes, 18 points, 7-for-9 from the field, 2-for-3 on threes, 2-for-3 from the line, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, +18. After dealing with various minor injuries all season, Captain Kirk finally looks spry and aggressive, which is (hopefully) a good sign heading into the playoffs…considering he’s going to have to match up with Deron Williams in the first round.
Nazr Mohammed, who was born in Chicago, may not be with the Bulls next season, so he made the most of what may be his final regular season game in front of his hometown crowd: 22 minutes, 17 points, 7-for-12, 7 rebounds, +21. Mohammed was very aggressive early on and even had a great spin-and-dunk move off an offensive rebound.
Butler didn’t have big numbers (13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot), but he played big minutes (43), providing his usual steady production and strong defense. He also hit that big trey early in the fourth quarter.
Deng’s stats look pretty meager (5 points, 2-for-7, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), but he did hit a clutch three, and the Bulls outscored the Wizards by 20 points during Deng’s 27 minutes on the floor.
Unfortunately, the Bulls did not get a good effort from the bench, and the plus-minus tells the tale:
Nate Robinson: -15
Taj Gibson: -15
Joakim Noah: -13
Marco Belinelli: -13
Rip Hamilton: -3
Admittedly, all of those guys except for Robinson have missed time recently, and it was very apparent. The rhythm and timing just wasn’t there. Nor, in some cases, was the conditioning. And Noah often looked uncomfortable moving up and down the court, so we can assume his plantar fasciitis is still a big issue.
Said Gibson: ”When you’re out so long it’s like you’re a step behind a little bit. You just have to work your way through it. But when you don’t have practice it’s tough, and that’s why I’m looking forward to the next couple days of practice so we can really get back into the swing of things and get our timing right because it’s tough. In the NBA (the pace) is fast, the regular season is fast, but it picks up a whole other notch in the playoffs. It comes down to one or two possessions every game.”
All of which begs the question: How will this effect the playoff rotation?
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We’ll sort it out as we move forward. I still want to see how guys are moving out there. And then we have to see where we are minutes-wise with people and then also look at the match-ups, who we’re going against and how we match up.”
Big questions. Gibson and Noah aren’t completely healthy. Belinelli’s abdominal strain probably won’t fully heal until the summer. Deng just completed the second-worst shooting season of his career, which may mean those wrist ligaments still aren’t right. Hamilton and Hinrich are always question marks health-wise. And then there’s the biggest question mark of all: Will Rose make his comeback during the playoffs?
Personally, I doubt it. After being ultra-cautious all this time, returning for the postseason would be like throwing all caution to the wind.
So health and minutes will be the biggest issues heading into this first round series with the Nets, much as they have been all season. And as has been the case all season, only time will tell the outcome.
The Bulls will open the playoffs on Saturday against the Nets. Chicago is 3-1 this season against Brooklyn, including 1-1 at the Barclays Center.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): This one goes to Nazr Mohammed, because why not? He scored a season-high 17 points (7-12 FG), grabbed seven rebounds and threw down a solid dunk. He recorded a game-best +/-, which gave him the edge over Carlos Boozer (19 points, 15 rebounds) and Kirk Hinrich (18 points). Alright fine. I just really wanted to give it to Nazr.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): It’s hard to say Joakim Noah, because he’s playing through injuries…and luckily I won’t have to, because Marco Belinelli went 2-8 from the field and scored a forgettable four points. Belinelli has scored in single digits in seven of his last eight games. That is not good news heading into the playoffs.
Defining Moment: When the Hawks lost to the Knicks. Atlanta’s loss to New York meant that whatever the result in the Bulls game was, it wouldn’t matter one bit, as the Hawks’ loss had given the Bulls the fifth seed. Well tanked, Atlanta. Good luck with Indiana.
X factor: It has to be the Bulls’ awesome first quarter. They took a 31-15 lead after one, as they held the Wizards to 25.0 percent from the field. The rest of the game was downhill, but Chicago rode that big first frame and did just enough to get the win.
That Was …fitting: In a season filled with close games—and losses to—lottery teams, the Bulls almost blew a big first quarter lead to the Wizards. Chicago pulled out a four-point win, but this is how it has been all season: the Bulls struggling with everyone from the best teams in the league to the worst.