Historically speaking, Game 1 blowouts aren’t necessarily indicative of how a series will proceed.
Just ask the Bulls. They defeated the Miami Heat by 21 points in Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and then went on to lose the next four games. Whether a team loses by one point or one hundred, it’s still only one loss.
That said, this particular loss was pretty discouraging.
The Bulls got a big offensive game out of Carlos Boozer (25 points, 12-for-20, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Nate Robinson (17 points, 8-for-12, 1 assist) provided some scoring punch off the bench.
Unfortunately, too many other Bulls came up shooting blanks.
Joakim Noah — who had been listed as doubtful for Game 1 and possibly even iffy for the entire series — hobbled out for the starting tip. But his unexpected appearance wasn’t exactly the second coming of Willis Reed. Noah played 13:27 ineffective minutes, finishing with 4 points on 2-for-6 shooting and 5 rebounds. He looked rusty. He looked hurt. And his performance raised the inevitable question: should he be playing at all?
Probably not…although Noah says he expects to play in Game 2.
Said Buls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”The thing is he hasn’t practiced so he’s going to be rusty, but I’d rather have him out there. Whatever he can give us is a plus. We didn’t play well. It wasn’t Jo, it was our team. So he’s a big plus for our team, so we’d like to have him out there. We’ve got to play better. Everyone has to play better.”
That “everybody” certainly includes poor Luol Deng (6 points, 3-for-11, 3 assists, 2 rebounds), who looked and played like he’d aged in dog years during the regular season. Maybe that’s the price to be paid for leading the league in minutes per game for two seasons in a row. And Gerald Wallace — who had a terrible season by his standards and even admitted recently that “my confidence is totally gone” — thoroughly outplayed Deng by scoring 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Said Deng: ”He’s a good player. He had a good night tonight, but it’s one of those things. I play hard, I battle, so I’m just looking at it as I had a bad game tonight. We lost one, but we’ll bounce back next game.”
Let’s hope so.
Adding to Chicago’s misery was the fact that Kirk Hinrich was held without a field goal and finished with the team’s worst plus-minus score (-19) in the 28 minutes he played before leaving the game with a leg injury. And as it turns out, his performance was historically bad.
Kirk Hinrich had 2 points and 2 assists in 28 minutes. His 4 combined points and assists are the fewest by any Bulls starting point guard that played at least 25 minutes in an NBA playoff game in the last 15 seasons. Coincidentally, the next 2 players on this list are Kirk Hinrich as well. It’s safe to say the Bulls need Derrick Rose back.
Well, of course the Bulls need Rose back, but unfortunately Thibodeau has all but ruled out any possibility that may happen: ”He’s most likely out but you never know. The playoffs are stretched out, too, so you have to factor that in. So who knows another week from now where he is? You always want to leave that possibility open.”
Nope. Superman won’t be flying to the rescue. Not this season anyway.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine how Rose’s return could revive a previously rock-solid defense that got absolutely blistered. The Nets shot 55.8 percent from the field, scored 56 points in the paint and committed only 8 turnovers. And if all that doesn’t flabber your gast, then this will: Brooklyn scored at the mind-boggling rate of 125 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
And here’s how truly awful Chicago’s interior defense was: the Nets were 20-for-24 (83.4 percent) at the rim and 8-for-12 (66.7 percent) from 3-9 feet. Basically, if they got anywhere close to the basket, they scored.
Thanks to a miserable 7-for-23 shooting effort and a 9-2 Brooklyn run to end the first quarter, the Bulls were already behind 25-14 heading into the second. And that’s when the hammer really came down: Brooklyn shot 16-for-20 during the second quarter and went into halftime with a 60-35 lead.
Believe it or not, the Bulls actually shot really well in the third and fourth quarters — 11-for-19 and 10-for-16 respectively — and even outscored Brooklyn 27-17 over the final 12 minutes. Unfortunately, the game had been decided long before that.
Said Thibodeau: ”It was the end of the first [quarter] and they hit us with a haymaker, got us back on our heels. So end of the first, second quarter, poor defense, poor intensity, poor energy on offense. You can’t win like that.”
Added Noah: ”We played so poorly. We didn’t play well offensively. We didn’t execute; playoffs is all about executing. We didn’t execute the defensive game plan, we didn’t execute the offensive game plan. We’ll watch film and we’ll definitely come out with a better effort on Monday.”
Noah is probably right. That’s been this team’s modus operandi during the Tom Thibodeau era. They rarely drop two games in a row and they almost always have a big bounce back after a loss.
And let’s face it, the Nets will almost certainly regress to the mean. Sure, Deron Williams (22 points, 9-for-15, 7 assists) and Brook Lopez (22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) will probably get theirs, but will Wallace have another efficient game? Will Joe Johnson (16 points, 7-for-13, 4 assists)? Or how about Andray Blatche (12 points, 6-for-11, 3 rebounds) and C.J. Watson (14 points, 6-for-8, 1 assist)?
It’s also a safe bet that — after watching film and getting an earful from Thibodeau — Chicago’s interior defense won’t be nearly as passive as it was last night.
That said, there are still some big questions. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that Hinrich will likely play in Game 2. And Noah said “Hell yeah, I’ll be out there” when asked if he would be available on Monday. But there’s no telling how effective either man will be. And they are absolutely critical if the Bulls have any hope of slowing Williams and defending Brooklyn’s forays into the paint.
But this is the playoffs. Anything can happen. And we all know these Bulls won’t give up.