Bulls-Nets Game 2 Preview

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.

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