Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bulls-Nets, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game No. 3: Hold On

Chicago Bulls 79, Brooklyn Nets 76--Bulls lead 2-1

The Bulls and Nets entered the United Center tonight tied at a game apiece on the heels of a pair of vastly different games in Brooklyn. In Game One, the Bulls were simply overwhelmed, but Game Two was a 2012-13 Chicago classic, a symphony of raw exertion and grit. 

In this one, the early going resembled Game One, as the Bulls turned it over three times in less than two minutes of play and found themselves down 13-2 by the 7:37 mark. The turnover total for Chicago ballooned to five before the halfway point of the first. Meanwhile, the Bulls couldn't throw it into Lake Michigan, starting the game 2-for-8 from the field. 

Unfortunately for the Bulls, Deron Williams had eight points (5/5 from the FT line) through just over six minutes of play after scoring eight all game on Tuesday. Luckily, Williams cooled down and the Bulls rattled off an 14-0 run, taking a two point surplus into the second after having been down 12. All in all, it was a tremendously ugly first quarter, as the Bulls didn't start hitting until the last few minutes and the Nets stuck with the outside shot even as it didn't fall (Brooklyn didn't score a basket in the first quarter's final 6:25). Then again, it's not as if "that was an ugly quarter" will be an infrequent saying during this series. 

The Nets continued to lob airball after airball, which negated the fact that the Bulls weren't lighting it up either. However, Taj Gibson absolutely posterized Kris Humphries off of a pick and roll to the put the Bulls up 26-20, a dunk that was basically a way scaled down version of MJ's throw dunk from the end of Space Jam. 

Things were getting so bad that I wondered if the Nets might have more luck blindfolding themselves and using the Force when rising to shoot. The Nets were an unbelievably awful 6-for-32 from the field through 18 minutes of play, good for 19%. 

The Bulls did very well to recover, generally outworking the Nets and taking shots much closer to the basket. At the same time, the Nets' incompetence was just amazingly comprehensive. A Jimmy Butler interception in the back court led to a wide open layup for Kirk Hinrich, who happened to still be under the basket, a play that capably summarizes the state of affairs for the Nets in the first half. 

The Bulls took a 41-34 lead into the break after Gerald Wallace hit a trey at the buzzer. The Nets finished the half just 9-for-40 from the field, or 22.5%. The Bulls weren't exactly covering themselves in glory either, having shot just 41% (1-for-6 from three).
Clearly Luol Deng drank the Secret Stuff at the half, because he came out firing early in the third, scoring nine points in the first four minutes, extending the Bulls lead to 14 in seemingly an instant.

The Bulls continued to lock down the Nets in the third, as Brooklyn finished the quarter still not shooting better than 30% for the game. Meanwhile, Deron Williams was still just 4-for-12 from the field; a more productive game than Game Two, yes, but far from as good as the Nets need him to be. 

The fourth continued mostly like the rest of the game --minus the first four or five minutes-- had, until the Nets rattled off an 8-0 run late, cutting the Bulls lead to 77-72. With the ball in the final minute, Joakim Noah dribbled the ball off of his leg and out of bounds, giving the Nets the ball with 29.7 seconds to go and a five point deficit, creating the first moments of anxiety in quite some time. 

The Bulls couldn't grab the defensive rebound at the other end, leading to a Lopez dunk. Chicago would head to the line after the Nets fouled again, sending Nate Robinson to the line with 10.7 seconds left. 

Nate spun the ball around his back and missed the first one short. He spun it again, and swished the second, giving the Bulls a four point cushion. 

Deron Williams cruised down the heart of the lane for a relatively uncontested layup, and the Nets then sent Joakim Noah to the line for a pair of clutch free throw attempts. He missed the first to the left, making the second an absolute must have. 

Fortunately, Noah calmly nailed the back end, giving the Bulls a three point lead with 4.4 seconds left and a foul to give. 

On the final possession, the Bulls attempted to foul Joe Johnson but didn't get the call. Johnson swung it to C.J. Watson in the corner, who, fittingly, airballed what would have been a game-tying trey at the buzzer. 

Once again, this game won't go down in the annals of basketball as a shining example of quality basketball, especially from Brooklyn's end, but the Bulls did what they needed to go to get the win. The Nets were content to plug away from outside all game, and the Bulls were more than willing to oblige them. The Nets finished the game having shot just 34.6% from the field, with Deron Williams once again having a poor outing  despite scoring 10 more points than he did in Game Two (5-for-14, 18 points). 

It wasn't an efficient night for Luol Deng (9-for-23, 21 points), but his scoring output combined with Carlos Boozer's 22 points was more than enough to down a Brooklyn team that looked like a Big Ten team trying to shoot on the Kohl Center rims. 

Although the Bulls made it uncomfortably close near the end, a win is a win. This series is far from over, but tonight was one big step on the road to the conference semifinals. If the Bulls win this series, I don't think they'll do it in five, but a win on Saturday would certainly make that outcome a possibility, especially if the Nets continue to play like they have post-Game One. 

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