MVP: No one stood out in this one. Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams all had 17 points—and Williams added 11 assists. Noah had 14 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five blocks, while still playing through plantar fasciitis. But maybe the best effort of all came from that mysterious illness that kept Luol Deng out and also affected Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson.
X factor: In a game that bodies were at a premium, the Bulls were in foul trouble for much of it. Both Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson fouled out, which meant more minutes for Noah as Thibs shuffled the already short rotation. Those fouls also gave the Nets a 33-18 advantage in free throw attempts.
Defining moment: The shot of Nate Robinson throwing up into a trash can during a timeout. Robinson played 42 minutes while fighting off an illness, scoring 18 points and dishing four assists, but he wasn’t the only guy fighting through pain.
That was…gutsy: The Bulls had no right being in this game with Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose out, but there they were within reach at the end of Game 6. I have grown very tired of the “moral victories” that Chicago has been racking up this season, but tonight was a great effort and the guys on the court deserve a ton of credit for their fight. Unfortunately that effort does nothing in the end except give the Nets something to think about going into Game 7.
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.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): Brook Lopez once again led the Nets, posting 28 points and ten boards. Lopez also got to the line seven times, hitting six of those freebies. He was 8-11 on shots at the rim and 10-14 inside the paint. On everything else he was 1-6. The Bulls had been doing a solid job of keeping him away from the bucket, but not in Game 6.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): I feel like I’ve said it a lot this season, but with Derrick Rose out and Joakim Noah injured, the Bulls’ other “All-Star” needs to show up. Well, Deng hasn’t been there this series. Lu finished with 12 points on 6-14 from the field and 0-3 from deep. For the series, Deng is 1-18 from three point range.
Defining Moment: Gerald Wallace’s five points in 17 seconds with just over two minutes left in the game put it out of reach. Wallace hit a corner three and then stole an errant Nate Robinson pass and slammed home a breakaway dunk. Unfortunately he didn’t miss it like C.J. Watson did, and the Bulls hopes of another comeback were dashed.
X factor: The Bulls were allowing nine offensive rebounds per game in this series.Tonight they gave up 17 offensive rebounds and 24 second chance points. Chicago allowed the Nets to shoot 50 percent from the field—they can’t also give up 17 offensive rebounds and expect to win. C.J. Watson even had two O-boards.
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.
With the series heading to Chicago, the Bulls find themselves back on track, after righting the ship in Game 2 of their matchup with Brooklyn. The Bulls followed up a dismal Game 1 performance with a much more spirited defensive effort, and managed to wrestle home-court advantage from the Nets.
Fighting through injury Joakim Noah was the Bulls’ MVP once again, a spot he held down for most of the year. Nazr Mohammed stepped up, Kirk Hinrich’s defense was much improved and Rip Hamilton didn’t see the floor. Plus, nearly everything that worked for Brooklyn in Game 1, failed them in Game 2.
First, they couldn’t hit at the rim. After shooting 22-27 at the basket in the opening game of the series, Brooklyn struggled from in close, shooting 12-26. Brook Lopez was 2-6, Gerald Wallace was 1-5 and Kris Humphries was 1-3 at the bucket. The Bulls were contesting everything in close, and that goes for everyone from Joakim Noah to Nazr Mohammed to Luol Deng to Jimmy Butler.
Chicago also shut down Brooklyn’s role players. Wallace was 5-7 in Game 1 for 14 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks. In Game 2 he had just two points, on 1-7 shooting and grabbed three boards. That wasn’t necessarily the most surprising regression, considering Wallace has played poorly this season. And while Deng didn’t have a great shooting game (7-17 FG, 15 points), he didn’t get outplayed by Wallace like he did in the opening contest (ten rebounds, four assists, two blocks).
Back to the Nets role players, after combining for 26 points on 12-19 shooting, C.J. Watson and Andray Blatche struggled a little on Monday, hitting 8-18 from the field for 18 points.
The Bulls are playing without their star, and with their second best player hindered by plantar fasciitis. They need their role players to out-play Brooklyn’s. Butler needs to slow Joe Johnson. Deng clearly needs to outplay Wallace. Boozer, who had a down night with just 13 points, needs to control the boards against Reggie Evans and score on the other end. Brook Lopez and Deron Williams are almost always going to get their points, but the Bulls should win the rest of the battles.
I say “almost always going to get their points,” because both Williams and Lopez had trouble in Game 2. Deron Williams had an awful game, hitting just a single shot from the floor (1-9) and finishing in single digits (eight points). I’d love to say this was all the Bulls’ defense, but that wasn’t the whole story. Hinrich did a good job defending Williams, but Deron missed some open shots. (The same can be said of Joe Johnson who went 6-18.) What the Bulls did do, was keep Williams away from the basket. In Game 1, Deron went 4-4 at the rim and 3-4 from 3-9 feet. In Game 2, he was 0-1 at the rim and 1-2 from 3-9 feet. Hinrich and good help defense are to credit for Williams being unable to get anything going inside.
And although Brook Lopez was still solid he did most of his damage from outside. That’s exactly where the Bulls want him to work. Lopez went 2-6 at the rim and 3-5 from 16-23 feet. Lopez can hit that long two, but the Bulls will give it to him rather than getting roasted in the paint again. Lopez hit all three of those jumpers in the last 4:41 of the second quarter. The Bulls played it the same every time. Noah, who was a step slow, didn’t contest as he usually would have, but the bottom line is that if Lopez wins the series with that shot, the Bulls will live with it. Brook shot 37 percent from 16-23 feet this season.
Chicago also benefited from Brooklyn shooting 2-of-19 in the third quarter and missing their last 10 shots in the frame. That helped the Bulls turn a one-point halftime lead into a 12-point advantage going into the fourth.
Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls clearly made their adjustments after Game 1, and Game 2 was much more what I expected from this series. It was close and ugly. The Bulls defense showed up and made the Nets work. But at the same time, Williams isn’t going to have another 1-9 shooting night and Brooklyn missed an awful lot of open shots. The Bulls made their changes, especially protecting the rim, but the Nets had a pretty bad night.
In the end, Chicago did what it needed to do: it stole home-court by gutting out a win, and now needs replicate that in the United Center.
The biggest question is how well Noah will play: will it be Game 1 Jo or Game 2 Jo? Heading into the playoffs, Noah has three days of rest before the opening contest. He managed just 13 minutes in that matchup, and they weren’t very productive minutes. Then, he got two days of rest before carrying the Bulls in Game 2. Now, he is back to having three days of rest before playing in the United Center. Hopefully, the extra day of rest means Noah will have the same type of energy he did in Game 2. According to Tom Thibodeau, Noah is expected to be on the 25-minute limit once again.
And speaking of plantar fasciitis, Joe Johnson did not practice on Wednesday because of it. He is listed as a game-time decision for Game 3.
The Bulls went 24-17 in the United Center, while the Nets were 23-18 on the road.
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.
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.
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.