Now that the season has passed, it’s time to start looking forward. Ironically, to begin doing that, we first need to look back at who did what last season.
Rose missed the entire season due to recovery from knee surgery. And he lost a little good will along the way. Nonetheless, everybody from Jerry Reinsdorf to the most casual Bulls fan is hoping and praying that Rose returns — and returns to his old MVP form — next season. He is the foundation of this franchise.
In many ways, Noah had his best season ever. He was selected as a reserve for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. He made the NBA All-Defensive First Team and was fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He had one of the franchise’s best-ever regular season performances in a road win over the Pistons (30 points, 23 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots) and one of the greatest playoff performances Game 7 victory over the Nets in Brooklyn (24 points, 14 rebounds, 6 blocked shots, 2 assists, 1 steal).
Unfortunately, Noah’s season was once again plagued by an injury, this time an ongoing case of plantar faciitis in his left foot. Noah missed 16 regular season games and simply wasn’t himself in several others. He averaged career-highs in minutes (36.8), points (11.9), rebounds (11.1), assists (4.0), blocks (2.1) and steals (1.2), but he also set career-low marks in field goal percentage (.481) and turnovers per game (2.7). And believe it or not, his Offensive Rebounding Rate (12.2) and Total Rebounding Rate (17.3) were lower only during his rookie season.
Noah is an elite center — one of the best in the league — and he is the team’s emotional leader. However, he’s missed 70 games over the past four seasons and and the plantar faciitis injury is recurring. When healthy, Noah is among the best there is at his position. Can he stay healthy? We’ll see.
For the second year in a row, Deng led the league in MPG (38.7) and made the All-Star team. He is one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders and provides leadership by example. And, of course, everybody knows that coach Tom Thibodeau believes Deng is absolutely indispensable.
That said, there are some concerns. For example, his three-point percentage sunk to its lowest mark since 2006-07 and he accumulated the second-worst field goal percentage of his career. He also had a league average Player Efficiency Rating of 15.1 and ranked sixth on the team in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.105).
It’s hard to determine whether the heavy minutes and a lingering injury to his left wrist account for his struggles with shooting and overall efficiency, but they probably figure in there somewhere.
The good news is Deng will have the entire summer off to get healthy (and have wrist surgery if necessary), which means he might be even better next year than he was the previous two seasons.
One thing worth noting: Deng is one of the team’s better trade chips. He is worth less to the Bulls than Rose and Noah. He doesn’t carry the same stigma as Carlos Boozer. And his $14 million salary comes off the books after next season. Therefore, if the Bulls make any kind of major deal, there is at least some likelihood Deng will be involved.
Although fans (and even some experts) use him as a lightning rod for abuse whenever the Bulls fail to live up to expectations, Boozer had another steady season. He ranked first on the team in both Points and Rebounds Per 36 Minutes (18.1 and 10.9, respectively), and he was third (behind Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson) in PER (17.1). Despite his previous history of being an injury risk, Boozer has missed only three games the past two seasons, and he has also been a consummate professional on and off the court.
Of course, Boozer is still a statue on offense.
Despite his reliable productivity — his Per 36 Minute stats have been pretty constant over his entire career — Boozer’s contract is considered untradable. He is reportedly owed just over $32 million over the next two seasons, and the general feeling is that today’s NBA team won’t pay that kind of money for a defensive liability whose past is marked by injuries and big game disappearances.
Due to salary constraints, the Bulls wouldn’t gain much by using the amnesty provision on Boozer’s contract this summer. There’s a far greater chance they will do so next summer, which Deng’s and Kirk Hinrich’s contracts expire.
By most statistical measures, Captain Kirk had an awful season. He notched career-lows in field goal percentage (.377), Effective Field Goal Percentage (.461) and True Shooting Percentage (.493). Even his free throw percentage (.714) was almost 10 percentage points off his career average (.805). His PER of 10.8 was well below the league average and he missed 22 regular season games due to a variety of injuries. He also missed the final three games of first round of the playoffs and all of the second round due to a calf injury.
That said, his coaches and teammates were always high on his contributions in terms of defense and leadership. And there’s also the bottom line argument: During the regular season, the Bulls were 38-22 when Hinrich played and 7-15 when he did not. That’s a pretty dramatic swing.
The team still wants and believes in him. More importantly, it’s unlikely any other team would trade for him. So expect him to return next season. If he stays healthy, he’ll make a great backup for Rose and whoever starts at shooting guard (my guess is Jimmy Butler).
Hamilton missed 32 games due to injury and set career-lows in PER (10.6), True Shooting Percentage (.481), and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.016). Rip dropped out of the rotation before getting dusted off for the final two games of the Heat series. He showed he could still be somewhat useful in those games, but his ongoing injury issues combined with the general decline in his productivity and the emergence of Jimmy Butler have made him expendable. The Bulls will buy out his contract this summer. He won’t be back.
The Bulls went into their do-or-die Game 5 in the Miami both with and without the usual cast of characters.
Derrick Rose missed the game and by extension missed the entire season, leading at least one writer to describe his much hyped “Return” packaged by Adidas as a hoax. On top of that melodrama, Kirk Hinrich (calf) and Luol Deng (illness) never recovered enough to play a single second round game, which had to be extremely frustrating for the both of them.
Meanwhile, four starters — Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson — logged 40+ minutes, with Robinson sitting for less than a minute and a half and Butler again going the full 48.
The only surprise of the night was the unexpected resurrection of Rip Hamilton. Not only did Hamilton log 35 minutes off the bench in place of an increasingly ineffective Marco Belinelli, he scored 15 points on 12 shots and compiled a game-high plus-minus score of +12.
The Bulls were coming off the worst offensive performance in their playoff history, so virtually anything would have been an improvement, but they were actually pretty effective on offense. thanks largely to strong games from Boozer (26 points, 10-for-19, 14 rebounds), Robinson (21 points, 4-for-7 on threes, 6 assists) and Butler (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals), the Bulls scored at a rate of 108.7 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
And, believe it or not, the Bulls were in good position to win this game.
Despite a disastrous first seven minutes that saw them fall behind 22-4, the Bulls did what these Bulls have done for the entirety of the Tom Thibodeau era.
They refused to panic.
By the end of the first quarter, Chicago trailed by only nine points. After outscoring Miami 32-17 in the second quarter, the Bulls took a six-point lead into halftime. That lead expanded to 11 points (75-64) with just under two minutes left in the third quarter. And it seemed like the miraculous was about to happen.
Then Miami cranked up their intensity.
On offense, the Heat went to their old standbys. Shane Battier knocked down two threes thanks to a couple drive-and-kick moves by LeBron James. Norris Cole had a brief hot streak, hitting from 17 feet and then serving up a facial at the rim. Dwyane Wade — who had to retreat to Miami’s locker room between the third and fourth quarters to have his knee re-taped — emerged from his funk to hit two of his patented running one-handers and later had a putback dunk of a missed Cole jumper. And between all those plays, LeBron was directing traffic, driving the ball and drawing fouls.
In all, the Bulls were outscored 24-15 in the fourth quarter but still managed to be down only three points and have possession of the ball with 26.4 seconds left. Unfortunately, Thibodeau had already used all his timeouts, and the Bulls were forced to freelance on that final possession.
It was not a smooth possession by any stretch of the imagination. The Bulls players were running around helter skelter in a frantic attempt to get any kind of clean or dirty look at the rim. Robinson squeezed off a three-pointer that missed badly, but Boozer corralled the offensive rebound. The ball ended up in Butler’s hands. After freeing himself up with a few ball fakes, Butler jacked a triple of his own, which also missed badly. Robinson somehow ended up with the rebound, but there wasn’t enough time left to get any kind of shot.
Said Noah: “We kept fighting. And kept fighting.”
Added Boozer: “We grinded it out. We had chances. We just fell a little bit short.”
Just a little bit short in this game. And a lot short in this series.
And yet, despite the loss, Chicago’s performance in this final game far exceeded expectations. Which is something the Bulls had been doing all season.
Said Thibodeau: ”Obviously we’re disappointed in losing the series. But I was never disappointed in our team. I thought our team fought hard all year long. There was no quit in them.”
Added Boozer: “We’ve got warriors here. If we’re healthy next season, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Of course. But good enough to defeat the Miami Heat?
ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell doesn’t think so. Not as presently constructed. Of course, the Bulls won’t return next season as presently constructed.
For starters, barring an unforeseen calamity or setback, Rose should return in 2013-14.
Furthermore, Hamilton probably won’t be back — the third year of his contract isn’t guaranteed and I just can’t see the Bulls paying Rip $5 million next season — leaving the former Piston to wistfully consider what might have been.
Said Robinson: ”I would love to [come back]. Honestly, I really would. But knowing the guys that we have here, I know it’s probably limited space for me, but we’ll see how it goes. [I'll] talk to my agent and stuff like that and figure out what’s the best plan for me. God has blessed me this far [to] continue to play the game that I love. I love this team, I love these guys, and if I could stay here it would be wonderful.”
Although Robinson had a strong season and was often the team’s best offensive player, there are several reasons the Bulls might not bring him back. For starters, there could be a logjam in a backcourt that includes Rose, Hinrich, Butler (at times), Belinelli (if he is re-signed) and Marquis Teague.
Will the Bulls — a notoriously fiscally responsible team (read that: cheap) — want to pay him? Especially if they end up bringing Belinelli back?
And will Belinelli be back? Management likes his skill set, but Marco shot a career-low 35.7 percent from three-point range, and his Effective Field Goal Percentage also dipped to a career-worst mark.
Then too, the Bulls desperately need more three-point shooters. They ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 29th in attempts this season. That won’t cut it in today’s NBA. And anyway, Rose will need shooters to space the floor for his drives, assuming he returns to anything like his old form.
There are big questions and big if’s heading into this offseason. And, for better or worse, most of the improvement will have to come from within. The Bulls don’t have the financial flexibility to sign any high-caliber players, and they still wouldn’t be able to do so even if they used the amnesty provision to offload Boozer’s contract, so you can probably expect Carlos to return for at least one more season. My guess is that the Bulls will amnesty Boozer in the summer of 2014 when Deng and Hinrich’s contracts come off the books.
So while the roster will likely be shifted around and tweaked where possible, management will probably field mostly the same team with an eager eye toward the following offseason. Meaning the Bulls and their fans will have to rely on improved health, internal development and maybe one or two key role players who might be able to contribute.
To what result? Nobody knows.
Said Noah: ”It’s hard right now because we just lost. And it’s always hard to sit here knowing that your season’s over but there are a lot of positives. We’re a young team that has experienced a lot at a young age. When you see what a guy like Jimmy Butler brought to the table. … We’re going to come back healthy, we’re going to be able to compete with these guys for a long time and I think that one day we’ll get our shot.”
Rather than the normal rapid reaction, this one will just be a few quick thoughts.
First, a lot of credit to this Bulls team. They were shorthanded the entire season, but never used that as an excuse. They had their nights that they faltered and fell flat, but it’s games like tonight that show you how much fight and effort this team put in every time they went out on the court. When I look back in a few years, that’s what I will remember. That and Game 4 against the Nets.
The effort was always there from the players on this team. From the new guys like Nate Robinson (who when he was signed I thought he was just an overconfident shooter, but actually bought into Tom Thibodeau’s system pretty well—and provided much needed scoring), to Jimmy Butler (taking a huge step forward into a starting role, developing a reliable three-point shot and shutting down perimeter players), to Joakim Noah (who has been giving the effort his entire career but emerged as Chicago’s MVP this season, often facilitating the offense and leading the defense). Even guys who were planted on the bench for long stretches of the season like Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed stepped up into huge roles at times, including the playoffs.
This Bulls team wasn’t always the most exciting team, but they had their moments, and all you can ask of a team is that they fight until the very end. Chicago did that.
A long, injury-riddled season with tons of off-the-court news has finally ended for the Bulls. Here’s to a better 2013-2014.
Feel free to leave your thoughts on the season below in the comments
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.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): In a game where LeBron James (6-17 field goals) didn’t shoot great and Dwyane Wade (ten points) disappeared for stretches, Chris Bosh picked up the slack. He had an enormous double-double with 20 points, 19 rebounds and added two blocks and four assists for good measure.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Carlos Boozer finally showed up and got himself out of the LVP spot. But it was quickly overtaken by Nazr Mohammed. And I mean quickly. Nazr got himself tossed after playing just 2:31 in Game 3. He committed an odd foul on LeBron at mid-court, and then when LeBron was about to get a technical, Nazr decided it would be best to push James down. Nazr got tossed and it did the Bulls no good.
X factor: Going into the series, the Bulls’ biggest worries were Bosh, James and Wade. Well, add Norris Cole to that list because he hasn’t missed from three yet. Cole is averaging 14.3 points per game and is shooting 80 percent from the field. When you’re over-compensating for LeBron James, someone is going to be open and it shouldn’t be Ray Allen. But if Cole keeps knocking down shots, the Bulls’ will have to make an adjustment.
X factor 2: The Bulls held Miami to 52.4 percent at the rim, which is 7.5 percent worse than the league average (and the Heat have a guy named LeBron James). That is a huge win for the Bulls and the focus of their defense. However, Miami hit 50 percent (13-26) from midrange, nearly 10 percent better than the league average. The Bulls executed their defensive scheme, but Miami, led by Bosh, was hitting the shots they were given. If a team is connecting at that rate from midrange, it’s going to be tough to beat them. When that team is the Miami Heat, it’s even tougher.
That was … better: Heading into the fourth quarter, the game was tied. But Chicago got outscored by ten in the final frame, which has to do, at least partly, with rest. Following Game 2’s blowout loss, the Bulls responded well and even though they didn’t get it done, they stuck right with the defending champs. If Miami hadn’t been hitting so well from midrange, the Bulls could be the ones with a 2-1 series lead.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): LeBron James pretty efficiently sliced the Bulls defense, scoring 19 points on 7-12 from the field, and also posted five rebounds and nine assists. He did this all in 32 minutes. Unlike in Game 1 where LeBron was content to facilitate early, the MVP was attacking from the start Wednesday night. James was 6-6 for 12 points in the first quarter, with two assists and two steals.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Pick your favorite (or least favorite) Chicago player. Carlos Boozer was 3-9 and refused to drive to the basket even though his jumper was off and he had Shane Battier guarding him for stretches. Non-savior Nate Robinson showed up, as he went 3-10 and turned the ball over four times. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson both lost their cool and got tossed in the fourth, long after the game was lost. Marco Belinelli shot 4-13 as no Bull scored more than 13 points.
X factor: The Bulls pride themselves on defending the paint and the three-point line. Tonight they did neither.Miami scored 56 points in the paint, compared to just 18 for the Bulls. As a matter of fact, the Heat had 16 points in the paint in the third quarter, nearly topping Chicago’s effort for the game in 12 minutes. And after missing lots of open shots in Game 1, Miami shook off the rust. They hit 9-18 from deep, led by Norris Cole (4-4).
That was … terrible: It was the Heat’s largest margin of victory in a playoff game, as well as the Bulls’ largest margin of defeat.Chicago shot 35.5 percent, while Miami hit at a 60.0 percent clip. Miami had 29 assists, the Bulls had 17.Every stat was in favor of the Heat except “number of players tossed.” With all that said, this only counts as one loss and the series is even going back to Chicago. The Bulls have a lot of adjustments to make, but that’s what Tom Thibodeau does.
It seems fitting somehow that in a playoff game where the teams involved combined to score 276 points, had a whopping 13 players in double figures, and needed three overtimes to decide the outcome, the smallest player on the floor had the biggest impact of all.
Mind you, there were significant contributions on both sides. The Nets got them from Deron Williams (32 points, 10 assists, 2 blocks), Brook Lopez (26 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks), Joe Johnson (22 points, 10-for-20, 3 rebounds), Gerald Wallace (17 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) and Reggie Evans (15 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks).
Meanwhile, the Bulls got big-time performances from Carlos Boozer (21 points, 10-for-16, 8 rebounds), Kirk Hinrich (18 points, 7-for-12, 14 assists), Joakim Noah (15 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) and Luol Deng (15 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists).
But none were bigger than what they got out of little Nate Robinson.
It’s a little hard to figure considering the circumstances. After all, Robinson has become something of an NBA vagabond. In the past four years, he has played for the Knicks, Celtics, Thunder, Warriors and Bulls without really catching on anywhere.
Robinson had some good days with the Knicks — averaging 17.2 points per game and compiling a Player Efficiency Rating of 18.9 in 2008-09 — before falling out of then-coach Mike D’Antoni’s favor (not to mention his rotation) and eventually getting traded to Boston. He played a limited role in Beantown before getting shipped to Oklahoma City as an add-in to the Jeff Green-for-Kendrick Perkins trade. Robinson played only four games for the Thunder before getting waived. Last season, he signed with the Warriors as a free agent and played reasonably well for them — 11.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 18.0 PER — but was not re-signed when the season ended.
To put that into perspective, that is apparently the same amount the Bulls spent on Vladimir Radmanovic. Only Daequan Cook, Louis Amundson and Malcom Thomas have made less from the Bulls this season.
And yet — by the numbers — Robinson has been one of the team’s most productive players.
I’m serious. Check it out for yourself. Robinson leads the team in Points Per 36 minutes (18.5), three-point percentage (.405), Effective Field Goal Percentage (.510), Assist Percentage (31.4) and Steal Percentage (2.2). He ranks second in PER (17.4), True Shooting Percentage (.540), Offensive Rating (108) and Offensive Win Shares (3.5). He also ranks third in Win Shares per 48 Minutes (.136) and fourth in total Win Shares (5.9).
Not bad for a kid from Seattle playing on a minimum contract.
Then again, Robinson’s life has been all about defying the odds. Despite standing only 5’9″ — and a short 5’9″ at that — Nate had a successful collegiate career at Washington University, where he played both basketball and football. Robinson helped lead the basketball team to two straight NCAA tournament bids and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2005. His football career wasn’t quite as distinguished, but he did have a key interception in the 2002 Apple Cup that helped set up the Huskies to beat the Washington State Cougars, who were ranked number three in the country at the time.
I’m not sure the Bulls expected all that much out of Robinson this season. He was a gun for hire, an energy guy off the bench, somebody who could occasionally provide instant offense with Derrick Rose out of action.
Which is exactly what he did.
Sure, there were nights when he drove his coaches and teammates crazy. The popular refrain is that Nate can shoot you into games…and he can shoot you out of them. And at times, his decision-making on passes and shot selection is questionable at best. But by and large, Robinson’s good has outweighed his bad.
Then came yesterday’s improbably playoff victory.
It was a game the Bulls probably had no business winning. They were down by 14 points (109-95) with about three minutes to go. Disappointed fans were filing out of the United Center in mild disgust. The Bulls aren’t a top offensive team — they ranked 24th in Offensive Efficiency during the regular season — and the idea of them overcoming a 14-point deficit in a few minutes seemed about as probable as lead spontaneously transforming into gold.
To that point, it appeared as if the most meaningful contribution Robinson was destined to make in this game was a near-fight with C.J. Watson in the second quarter. But Robinson orchestrated an epic 14-0 run, scoring the first 12 on his own and then finding Boozer for the final two. The Bulls still had to sweat out a couple free throws by Lopez and get a putback from Noah to force overtime, but Robinson’s offensive explosion was beyond epic.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”It was big shot after big shot, but that’s what he does. That’s what makes him so valuable. It doesn’t take him much to get going and when he gets going, he can go on a big run.”
Despite the tribute, I often get the feeling that Robinson’s scoring exploits offend Thibodeau’s sensibilities even as they save his team’s butt. After all, Thibodeau lives in a world where basketball is about defense, rebounding and outhustling your opponent. To Thibs, basketball is won by hard work, not hot hands.
But hot hands sure help.
Few players can light it up the way Robinson does on occasion. And Robinson is the only player currently on the Bulls roster who can do it. In some ways, he’s even more combustible than a healthy Rose, if only because he’s a better three-point shooter. And the secret to Nate’s success is an inner confidence that says: “I can make every shot.”
Said Robinson: ”I always think I’m on fire. Like the old school game, ‘NBA Jam,’ you make a couple and the rim’s on fire and when you shoot the ball, the ball’s on fire. I feel like that at times. Well, all the time. When I’m in the game, I play with a lot of confidence and you kind of got to lie to yourself that you can’t miss.”
The ultimate believe in oneself. How else do you explain Robinson scoring a game-high 34 points on 23 shots in 29 minutes? The personal 12-point run? The running 23-foot bank shot with two seconds left in the first overtime that nearly won the game?
Robinson scored 23 points on 11-for-16 shooting in the fourth quarter. He added another 6 points before fouling out in the second overtime. The only other time in the last 15 seasons that a player scored 29 points after the third quarter was when LeBron James dismantled the Pistons back in 2007. And had he scored one more point in the fourth, Robinson would have tied Michael Jordan for the most points ever scored by a Bulls player in the fourth quarter.
That’s right. Nate Robinson. In the same sentences with LeBron and MJ. Not bad company.
That’s why Robinson’s accomplishment stands out in a game full of brave performances. Like Kirk Hinrich playing 60 minutes, or Noah going 49 despite limping around on a foot riddled with plantar faciitis. I haven’t forgotten or overlooked Deng feeding Noah for a huge dunk with 1:18 left in the second overtime, or Nazr Mohammed hitting a hook and later grabbing a key offensive rebound in the third overtime. There were so many big plays yesterday. So many guys stepping up. Willing themselves on.
But I will always remember this game because of Robinson’s legendary performance.
The Nets, on the other hand, are left to rue a game that got away from them. The 16 missed free throws. A missed dunk by C.J. Watson right before Robinson’s big fourth quarter run. And a late disappearing act by Williams (2-for-11 in the fourth quarter and overtimes).
Said Williams: ”We made a lot of mistakes up 14. It was so long ago, I can’t remember what all went on. We had the missed dunk. Missed free throws. I fouled Nate on the 3. We made a lot of mistakes in the fourth quarter.”
And now the Bulls are poised the finish off the Nets and move on to round two.
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.
Unfortunately, after leading by as many as 17 points (71-54) early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls suffered a complete meltdown on offense and defense. From that point, Brooklyn outscored Chicago 22-8 and came within one wide-open three-point attempt by C.J. Watson of forcing overtime.
No, it wasn’t pretty, but the Bull will take the win thankyouverymuch.
Said Carlos Boozer: ”We did what we had to do to win the game. In the playoffs, you have to win different ways. Nothing is perfect.”
Boozer knows what he’s talking about. He led the Bulls in scoring (22 points on 9-for-15 shooting) and ripped down a game-high 16 rebounds, but he also committed a game-worst 4 turnovers. That said, Boozer’s offense carried the Bulls through various dismal stretches that saw them shoot 39 percent as a team.
Said Taj Gibson: ”One thing about Carlos that people don’t understand (is) that he does his job every day. He’s there early, a great teammate, he’s always going to give you 110 percent in practice and he understands what it takes. He did a phenomenal job late. Like Thibs said, when we watch film, Thibs was really calling guys out and one thing about Carlos — he responded. Thibs told him to (play more) help-side defense, step up on defense, and give support towards the point guard and he’s been doing that. I think that’s one of things people don’t understand (about him). It’s a small thing but on our team that’s big for us.”
Added Luol Deng: ”I thought Carlos hit some big shots. They made some runs and he just kept coming up huge. He was big for us. Carlos has been playing great and we just got to keep going to him and giving him looks. He’s playing so well right now and the baskets he hit tonight were really huge. (The Nets) kind of felt like they got momentum and Carlos would come back and answer.”
Even so, closing out the Nets was a struggle to the bitter end.
Still, as Boozer said, the Bulls did what they had to do. Especially Luol Deng. Lu didn’t shoot the ball particularly well — 1-for-6 on threes and 9-for-23 overall — but he had 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and had an incredible stretch to open the third quarter.
That stretch started with three long jumpers from 20, 17 and 16 feet. He then stunned Gerald Wallace with a wicked crossover that sent Wallace stumbling to the floor before stepping back to nail a three-pointer from 26 feet out. On Chicago’s next possession, Deng drove past Wallace and hit a layup as Wallace fouled him, then converted the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play.
Deng’s explosion turned a 41-34 halftime lead into a 53-38 lead that had the Nets on their heels.
Said Deng: ”I had a few good minutes. I felt like I could have shot the ball a lot better. I don’t know how many minutes, seven or so of great minutes. They could have sent me home after that.”
And Deng wasn’t just abusing Wallace on offense. He also abused him on defense. Wallace — who clearly isn’t right in the head right now — finished with 5 points on 2-for-8 shooting in 25 minutes.
Past that, it seems like Chicago’s defense has largely figured out Deron Williams (5-for-14 from the field, 3-for-8 on threes, 4 assists) and the injured Joe Johnson (6-for-14), and Andray Blatche (3-for-9) and Watson (1-for-8) seem to have left their shooting touch back in Game 1.
All that said, the Bulls still can’t put the stops on Brook Lopez, who scored 22 points (8-for-16), grabbed 9 rebounds and blocked 7 shots. Lopez seems to make something happen every time he touches the ball, regardless of who’s guarding him, even Joakim Noah.
Speaking of Jo…
Noah had a rough night. A very rough night. Before the game began, Noah provided a graphic description of what it feels like to play with plantar faciitis: “It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while you’re playing. You can imagine. You need to jump. You need to run. You need to do a lot of things while you’re playing basketball. You don’t want needles on your feet, right?”
No, Joakim, I do not.
Well, during Game 3, Noah looked like he was running on broken glass and rusty nails with needles on his feet. He snared 8 boards and blocked a couple shots, but he was 0-for-5 at the rim and 0-for-7 from the field overall. Noah looked uncomfortable running and awkward handling the basketball. He couldn’t elevate toward or around the basket. And the Bulls were outscored by 13 points during his 27 minutes on the floor, making him the only member of the starting lineup that had a negative plus-minus score.
But Noah’s worth goes well beyond what we can see in a box score, and the Bulls are better spiritually if not statistically when Joakim is available to play.
Said Deng: ”Jo does so much and he’s not going to complain about his feet or anything. We just got to make sure — the game is over, he feels great, he’s got to make sure he’s got to do what’s necessary to give us whatever he can next game but you could see he’s huge for us. When Jo is at his best or even close to that, we’re tough.”
The question is: Can Noah be at his best with so little rest between a late Thursday night game and an early afternoon game on Saturday?
Said Noah: ”It’s hurting. It’s hurting, but overall I’m just happy we won. We don’t have a lot of time to rest but I’ll get as much treatment as I can and be ready for Game 4.”
Noah might not be the only heavy-footed player on Saturday. Thibodeau coaxed big minutes out of Deng (44), Boozer (40) and Kirk Hinrich (40). Boozer and Deng obviously were needed for scoring and rebounding. Hinrich had a decent offensive game (12 points and 2 assists) despite missing all three of his three-point attempts. But Captain Kirk’s real value has been his defense on Williams, which has been brutal since Game 1.
Said Nate Robinson: “Kirk is doing a hell of a job on him. And together as a whole we do a great job of helping each other out but it started with Kirk on Deron. Great job.”
The Bulls also once again got a big lift from Nazr Mohammed (6 rebounds, 5 points, 2 assists). His numbers might not make your eyes pop out of your head, but the Bulls were +13 during his 16 minutes on the floor, which was the team’s best plus-minus number on the night.
And depending on how Noah’s foot feels tomorrow, Mohammed might have to log more minutes in Game 4.
The Bulls won the rebounding battle 48-42, which included a 9-7 edge on the offensive glass. This is an important point, because the Nets were an elite offensive rebounding team during the regular season.
The Nets had a 30.9 offensive rebound percentage in the regular season, the third highest rate in the league. Thursday against the Bulls, the Nets had an offensive rebound percentage of 15.2%, the lowest in any game this season (including playoffs).
Quote of the Game: Said Noah: “It’s not going to be pretty. 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.”
Play of the Game:
I felt like this play defined the win. The effort, the hustle, the defense, the teamwork. It’s all there.
Dunk of the Game:
Taj Gibson made Kris Humphries family cry with this second-quarter dunk.
Reasons for Concern:
Obviously, turnovers can be a problem for the Bulls, and they were tonight. Chicago gave up 18 points off 15 turnovers.
But a bigger concern might be inside scoring. The Bulls shot a miserable 9-for-27 (33.4%) at the rim and scored only 26 points in the paint. And as I mentioned above, Lopez looked like Bill Russell, stuffing a total of 7 shots in the game.
Remember, in Game 1, the Bulls scored only 36 points in the paint while going 14-for-29 (48.3%) at the rim. And they lost that game. The Bulls are a poor outside shooting team and can’t rely on jumpers to win this series.
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.