It pains me to say this, because I’ve loved making fun of him (and his contract) all season, but the Bulls clearly missed Kirk Hinrich in Game 5. It wasn’t his 11.3 points on 43.2 percent shooting that he’s averaging this series that left a hole, but it’s his defense on Deron Williams. Williams went 6-14 from the field, which isn’t good, but he took ten foul shots to help him score 23 points. It is unlikely that Hinrich will be able to play through his calf injury, meaning Tom Thibodeau will have to come up with something for slowing down Williams.
Williams did a good job getting to the line, but it was once again Brook Lopez who gave the Bulls the most trouble. The center recorded 28 points and ten boards, six of those rebounds being offensive. Lopez scored 20 points in the paint, hitting 8-14 from that area. He was 1-6 outside the paint, once again showing the importance of pushing Lopez out away from the basket and into lower percentage shots.
Lopez and Williams got their points, which the Bulls could live with. What they can’t live with is the role players toasting them. Gerald Wallace had his second good game this series—which could also be his second good game of the entire year—hitting 5-8 from the field and 2-3 from deep. Andray Blatche also went 5-8, scoring 13 off the bench to go with five boards. C.J. Watson tallied eleven points, and even grabbed two offensive rebounds. Good games from the Nets role players in Game 1 also resulted in a loss for Chicago.
Those three role players hurt the Bulls, but something Chicago knew it would have to stop coming into this series really dug them the deepest hole in Game 5. The Bulls gave up 17 offensive rebounds, after giving up just 36 through the first four games of the series combined. Those 17 boards translated into 24 second-chance points.
And while we are pointing fingers, it’s Luol Deng’s turn. He has failed to step up even with the Bulls two best players out or injured, including his 6-14 for 12 points in Game 5. He’s 1-18 from three in this series. Deng averaged one made three per game for the year. Joakim Noah isn’t getting much healthier than he is now, so Lu needs find his shot and shut down whoever he is guarding at the moment, especially when it’s Gerald Wallace.
Game 5 felt a lot like Game 1 to me. Brooklyn got lots of points in the paint. Their role players contributed. And they pulled away from Chicago to get a pretty convincing win.
All that means Thibs will once again have to make his adjustments, although with Hinrich potentially out, it’ll be tougher. It might be best for Marco Belinelli to start, rather than Nate Robinson. That way Nate could do his normal “shoot all the time” off the bench routine, and Belinelli could guard Joe Johnson, freeing up Jimmy Butler to guard Deron Williams from the start. Starting Nate Robinson is like eating a ton of candy right before dinner; it may sound like a good idea, but you’re going to throw up all over.
Nate, not surprisingly, put up little resistance for Williams, but Butler has done a good job on him all series. This idea of starting Belinelli was tossed around before Game 5, but Thibs decided against it. Given a second chance, maybe he’ll try and switch things up and not allow Deron to get into a rhythm.
Tom Thibodeau could have more on his hands than just figuring out how to replace Hinrich’s defense though. Both Luol Deng and Taj Gibson stayed home on Wednesday because they were sick. Thibs is hopeful they can go, but if not…well if not Vladimir Radmanovic is a possibility to get playing time in the postseason and that’s just scary.
No matter who is out there, this will be the Bulls best chance to close out the Nets as they return to the United Center. Brooklyn’s Andray Blatche said on Wednesday “there’s no doubt in our mind. We are the better team.” That should give whoever is healthy some extra motivation to get that last win.