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.