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Bulls get a how did they do that win in Brooklyn
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 5
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Really, who are these guys, these Bulls who somehow Thursday on national TNT came back from a 16-point deficit to beat the Brooklyn Nets 92-90?
I know Nazr Mohammed, but he’s no Joakim Noah. Yet Mohammed, who had 20 DNPs by All-Star break, played 36 minutes for the injured Noah, almost doubled the rebounds of Nets All-Star center Brook Lopez, made a crucial defensive stand that forced Lopez into a turnover with 32.9 seconds left and the Bulls trailing 90-89 and then made the game saving block on Lopez with 6.6 seconds left and the Bulls ahead by one after Nate Robinson’s game winning floater.
“In the heat of the moment you can’t remember exactly,” offered the humble and soft spoken veteran from Kenwood High School. “What I remember may be wrong, but I saw D. Will (Deron Williams) penetrating, probing. What I wanted to do was keep a body on him, keep him in jail under the basket and then try to block him.”
Mohammed got the block on one of a series of Lopez pratfalls down the stretch that eventually doomed the Nets.
I know Jimmy Butler, yet he doesn’t have the championship like Richard Hamilton nor the shot of Marco Belinelli. But with those two also out, Butler came up with 16 points and 10 rebounds, an acrobatic driving reverse layup with 3:13 left that put the Bulls back ahead in a fourth quarter with eight lead changes and four ties and then put some fierce defense on a hot Williams that forced the ball out of his hands and into inevitable mistakes by other Nets players.
“Being like Derrick,” laughed Butler, who bounced back big from missed late free throws against the Mavs and Wizards. “That’s what Derrick does, incredible athletic plays. I just wanted to get the shot up on the rim and if I missed hope a teammate was there to tip it in. The approach is the next one. That’s in the past. Nothing you can do about it but learn from it. It wasn’t just me guarding the ball. If I was beat, there was Booz or Lu or Nazr there. He saw me, but he also saw four right behind me.”
But an awful lot of the long, wiry Butler, who is emerging as a big time defensive stopper and ironman with another 40-plus minute game.
“Great all around game from Jimmy,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
I know Nate Robinson, and I know he’s no Derrick Rose. Yet, there was Robinson back into the game after Kirk Hinrich fouled out with 3:38 left—making it six rotation players out–and making that winner down the middle with 22.7 seconds left and the Bulls withstanding a what-are-they-thinking-about Lopez jumper with a second left to try to tie the game.
“For us, it’s big,” said little big man Robinson. “Kirk fouled out. You got Marco out. Rip out. D-Rose out. Taj out. Guys are just stepping up, and that’s what teams do. You got Jo out and Nazr stepping in for him. These guys are coming in and it’s like old school wrestling. Tag team. You know when one guy goes in, tag him, the other guy go out. Back and forth. We just got to keep playing and keep doing that.
“I wanted for coach to call my number,” added Robinson. “I’m always going to be ready. I live for shots like that. I love those. That’s the player I am. I’m not afraid to take the big shot if I have to. I’m going to bring energy and play as hard as I can.”
This is becoming the little team that could. You just don’t get over the mountain of NBA excellence with so few regulars, so many players out injured, All-Stars and starters, your top reserve, your only player with a championship, your best perimeter shooter. They’re all in the locker room watching, and at the shocking conclusion standing out on the hall cheering, especially Noah and Taj Gibson welcoming the players as they ran back to the locker room, guys like Vladimir Radmanovic and Mohammed and Butler and last Carlos Boozer with a brilliant game as Noah bellowed to Boozer, “Way to steal it from those (guys).”
“You (media) guys know the makeup of our team,” said Boozer with a dominating 29 points and 18 rebounds. “We fight to the end. We’ve got some resilient guys in here. We keep grinding, playing hard until things go our way.
“We know you guys don’t believe in us,” Boozer laughed. “But we believe in each other. We’ve had some close games. The Wizards, Dallas was obviously a close game. And for us we just hope all of this is building up to us winning close games in the playoffs because you know how the playoffs are. Very few games are blowouts. Most games come down to one possession, two possessions at the end of the game. So for us we just hope this builds up good habits for us to win those close games when we need to.”
There really can’t be much to surprise the Bulls after a game like this in Brooklyn: Playing the fourth seeded team in the Eastern Conference, on the road with five regulars out, five of the top eight players in the rotation, then opening the game behind 18-4 after just seven minutes as Lopez hit just about every shot, and then fighting off a blitz in Williams’ best game of the season with 30 points and 10 assists and winning it down the stretch on defensive plays by Mohammed and Butler and Robinson’s runner around Boozer and Luol Deng combining for 15 fourth quarter points on seven of 10 combined shooting.
“At the end of the night we got the plays we needed to win,” said Boozer, who played 45 minutes. “This is the NBA. You’ve got to win in different ways. We used almost everybody and whoever was out there had a big game for us. Obviously, we want to climb up as high as we can and hopefully get a home court (first round in the playoffs), get healthy, get everyone out there and we have a chance to do something special. For (this game), me and Luol, it was our responsibility to score the ball, especially without D. Rose.”
And suddenly the Bulls could be talking about stealing a first round home court. They are now 41-33 and just a game and a half behind the fourth place 43-32 Nets. The Bulls won the season series and tiebreaker 3-1. Of course, a fourth or fifth seed sets up a potential second round series with Miami, though with the way the season has gone and surely the way Thibodeau sees it the Bulls have plenty to worry about against anyone in the playoffs. But especially the way the Bulls, who are now tied with Atlanta for fifth, have handled the Nets this season one would think that’s the most favorable Bulls matchup to win a playoff series. Of course, the way the Nets have played they could fall behind the Bulls and Hawks, which leaves plenty of intrigue for the last few weeks of the regular season.
The Nets did play Wednesday, an easy win in Cleveland, and were just coming off their long circus trip. But they were back at full health with Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace back from injury, All-Star Lopez opening the game with 18 first quarter points in dominating Mohammed, though mostly making shots. There was Butler trying to deal with multiple All-Star Johnson, Williams back in All-Star form attacking and the Bulls help defense weak as the Nets took a 28-13 first quarter lead and 47-36 at halftime, though the Bulls finally began to get the ball to Boozer more. It’s been a problem at times, though Butler has become better feeding the post along with the more reliable Hinrich.
But it was after halftime the Bulls got the message that this was a game they could win as the Nets continued to have no answers for Boozer. Williams, likewise, was very good, but he was getting no support and now going off a bit on his own and ignoring teammates. The Nets’ offense, though Williams’ offensive game is better, remains shaky. Williams doesn’t often hit players in rhythm as Johnson and Wallace and even Lopez dribble more often after passes that just finishing. But it is an isolation type team, and flawed in its makeup as coach P.J. Carlesimo likes to finish with a defensive unit of Reggie Evans and Keith Bogans or Kris Humphries. The trio combined for 69 minutes with two points. It’s difficult to win when you most always have two players on the floor who don’t need to be guarded. Though without Noah and Gibson, the Bulls weren’t able to take advantage as much because Mohammed, Radmanovic and Boozer aren’t as polished help defenders.
“In the first half, we were the more aggressive team,” said Carlesimo. “We were the more physical team and we defended really well. I thought we set the tone. In the second half, they set the tone. They were more physical than we were, particularly on the boards, and we obviously never got a handle on Carlos (who added another third quarter throw down dunk). The guys we defended well in the first half, hurt us in the second half.”
The Bulls made it a game in the third pulling within 67-65 after three quarters when Williams drew Hinrich into a three-shot foul with three tenths of a second left in the third.
But Deng and Boozer got the Bulls the lead to open the fourth, Robinson knocked down another big fourth quarter three after the Nets wet ahead 74-73, and then it was a great duel down the stretch with Williams powering his way inside and finding Johnson finally for a three. That made it 88-86 Nets with 1:14 left.
The Bulls then went to Boozer out of a timeout and he was fouled, making one of two and Williams followed with a short jumper for a 90-87 Brooklyn lead with 52.9 seconds left. Game, it seemed. Deng came right back with a 20 footer and the Nets outthought themselves for the first of several times down the stretch trying to go to Lopez, who was two of 10 after the first quarter and outrebounded by Mohammed 9-5. Mohammed also had three blocks and the Bulls outrebounded the much bigger Nets 46-30 and 13-7 on the offensive boards.
Mohammed was strong holding off Lopez, who panicked and threw the ball to the right corner, where Robinson picked it off with Brooklyn ahead 90-89. Robinson said he was ready for a full court rush. But he got into the half court and made that floater over Lopez for a 91-90 Bulls lead with 22.7 seconds left.
The Nets curiously again went to Lopez, who was blocked by Mohammed before Daequan Cook was fouled and made one of two. And then out of a timeout with 5.5 seconds left, Williams drove and passed to Lopez, who missed a baseline 17 footer as time expired.
“Let’s start with the post-up,” said Lopez. “I felt like I was in the key for a little, so I was looking through my options of where to kick it out to. I was trying to find D-Will or Joe. It was just a terrible play on my part. The next play D-Will hit me with a good pass. I didn’t finish strong though, and the same thing happened on the third play. I got a good look and it didn’t go down.”
Just the Nets, and perhaps doubts about what this Bulls team can accomplish.
“I wouldn’t say it’s extra inspiring,” said Hinrich about the win. “We’ve been doing it shorthanded all year. It is big any time you come into another arena and be down like that and shorthanded and win. So it is a very big game. We collectively found a way.”
And it was quite a collection who did so.
* * * *
Before the game, Thibodeau delivered another no news, news report on Derrick Rose as he gets more such questions when the Bulls are in New York.
Said Thibodeau: “He’s close, but he’s not going to come back until he’s ready. He feels a lot better. But he’s still not there. His skill set is power, speed, stop, go, change of direction. So he has to make sure he’s completely comfortable with that. And he’s close, but he’s not quite there yet.”
“If you have the ability to do it every day,” added Thibodeau. “Right now we’re not doing a lot of scrimmaging because of where we are. So it’s hard to gauge. But when we did scrimmage, I thought he looked very good. The most important thing is him being comfortable. So we’ve got to let him work through it. He’s gotten more comfortable, he’s moving along. He’s just got to keep doing the things that he’s doing. We talk every day. So we’ll know when he’s ready and he’ll communicate that. He’s very strong willed. He’s not going to be swayed by anybody. He’ll know when he’s ready. It’s on him and only he knows. So we trust him and as I said many times, I trust him implicitly and he’ll know when he’s ready, and when he is, he’ll go.”