Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 6, Bulls-Nets: I Have A Bad Feeling About This

Chicago Bulls 92, Brooklyn Nets 95

I wasn't able to take notes during the first half of this one, so I'll just go ahead and skip right to the second half (this is the NBA after all, so that's probably a fair thing to do every time). 

Nonetheless, the Bulls, again with Kirk Hinrich, have up a whopping 60 first half points, with Deron Williams scoring 14 on 5-for-9 from the field. For all of the criticism Hinrich took throughout the system--some warranted, but most of it not--it's pretty well obvious by this point that the Bulls were going to have a rough go of it without him on the defensive end. Every defensive set begins with on-the-ball defense, and when you don't have your most effective player executing that role, the rest of the defense will struggle. 

The Bulls took a 60-54 deficit into the second half, which reminded me of the Michigan-Kansas game for the simple fact that it felt as if the Brooklyn lead could and probably should have been much greater than it was. 

To make matters worse, the Bulls were also without the services of Luol Deng, so it was encouraging to see them drop 54 in the first half. Still, the second half would be a struggle to keep up and continue to find enough production to stay with the Nets. 

Nate Robinson buried a trey to open the second half, cutting the lead to three, but the Nets quickly built it back up to eight in the ensuing minutes. 

Later in transition, Robinson attacked the rim and dished to an open Marco Belinelli in the corner, who nailed the three to cut the Nets lead to 69-68. Luckily for the Bulls, it wasn't an exceptionally well-played quarter for either team, but Chicago made enough plays on the defensive end to keep the game from getting away from them before the final frame. 

The scraptastic Bulls took a four point deficit into the final quarter, and the two teams continued to engage in trench warfare through the first five minutes, scoring eight points apiece. 

Despite the Bulls' inability to tie the game up for the first time since late in the first quarter, they did do an admirable job of locking down on Williams and Brook Lopez in the second half; they scored a combined one point through the first 18 minutes of the second half. Williams scored his first second half points at the line at the 5:24 mark of the fourth quarter. 

Although the Bulls were ahead in the series, the sense of desperation was palpable as the contest entered its final five minutes. Robinson buried a long jumper to cut the lead to two with under five to go, but a Lopez jam at the other end once again pushed the pendulum back slightly in Brooklyn's direction. The game felt like a Big Ten contest, in which a two possession deficit might as well be an insurmountable hill to climb. 

A Belinelli trey with just over two to go cut the lead to two once again, as the Bulls looked to steal a win in a game they were trailing for most of the time. Unfortunately, Andray Blatche hit an acrobatic spinning jumper at the other end, but the Bulls again cut it to two. On the next defensive possession, Noah swatted Blatche's shot from the left side, but failed to connect on a strong drive to the rim. The sequence ended with a loose ball foul on Carlos Boozer, his fifth, forcing Nazr Mohammed into action (Taj Gibson had already fouled out). 

Blatche went to the line and misfired on his first attempt. The United Center crowd, standing, couldn't coerce him into a second miss. With 32 seconds to go, the lead was now 93-90. 

The Bulls opted for two, hitting Mohammed for an easy bucket at the rim. Chicago couldn't get the Nets to hit Blatche on the ensuing sideline inbounds, but a trap of Deron Williams did force another timeout and allow for another opportunity to do so. 

The Bulls succeeded this time, but Blatche, a 69% free throw shooter during the regular season, buried both free throws with aplomb amid the din. 

The Bulls' final possession began with Nate Robinson dribbling around, falling, and a pass being deflected out of bounds off of a Brooklyn player. On the inbound, Robinson found Belinelli for a good look in the corner to tie, but he shot it long and Noah stepped out of bounds after corralling the ball. 

In a fortuitous sequence, the Bulls forced a jump ball situation, with Noah going up against Williams. Alas, it didn't matter, and the Bulls never got one final shot. The Bulls fell, 95-92, and the series moves back to the Barclays Center, tied at three games apiece. 

And so, the dreaded Game Six loss at home came to pass. After having been up 3-1 in the series, it's difficult to imagine the Bulls having one more win in them. Then again, it's not as if this Bulls season hasn't been a ceaseless paved with surprise after surprise, loping along clunkily but endearingly. 

Nonetheless, unless Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng both suit up in Game 7, we may be left channeling our inner Denny Green

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