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.