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.