Nets 106, Bulls 89: Starting history the right way
The gist of it
What sequence best summed up the narrative redemption of Brooklyn’s Game 1 victory over the Chicago Bulls? A Barclays Center standing ovation preempting a Deron Williams runner at the end of the first half to push the lead to 25 points? Deron streaking for a breakway two-handed reverse jam in the third, tabling any talk once and for all that he’d dropped a step during an up-and-down tenure with the Nets thus far? Andray Blatche, attempting to intercept two passes intended for his teammates—and actually catching one of them? For everyone who hadn’t caught a Nets game, it was all there: the unclear home crowd proven strong, the uncertain superstar made good, the individualist gunner holding onto a few endearing bad habits. All of it congealed into a runaway success, a blowout win over one of the Eastern Conference’s mainstays over the last few years.
Derrick Rose or no Derrick Rose, that’s nothing to take lightly considering how quick Nets fans were to worry about this game. The franchise’s first playoff effort against a team coached by the NBA’s equivalent of General Patton, injuries be damned, considered an underdog even though they held the higher seeding? Maybe there was only so much a free “HELLO PLAYOFFS” t-shirt could inspire. But the Nets didn’t just come strong against the Chicago Bulls—they destroyed them, leaping out to an early first quarter lead and holding steady throughout the way, nearly forcing a 30-point deficit before the hapless Bulls were able to stem the bleeding in the fourth quarter.
Consider how they scored. With Joakim Noah hobbling around on a bum leg, Brook Lopez was nigh unstoppable against Chicago’s traditionally fortuitous interior defense, making nearly half of his shots and going perfect from the line. Deron Williams was a quick-footed revelation, shooting outside and inside along with that metaphorically and literally emphatic transition dunk. Gerald Wallace had his best game in months, missing just two shots while playing his brand of insistent defense that seemed to peer pressure the referees into not saying anything whenever he came crashing into a Chicago player. Joe Johnson had a relatively quiet effort but he picked up the scoring load when Deron and Brook were out, pacing things and settling a second unit that often struggled to get in a rhythm this year. Reggie Evans scored with his left hand at least twice.
It was an all-around performance, with the Nets shooting 57% against the vaunted Thibodeau defense missing a few steps from its typically crisp execution. You knew the Bulls weren’t defending Deron and Brook with Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed, nor was Carlos Boozer good enough to drive the Chicago offense by himself. They never challenged, really, and the game was basically basketball pornography until the fourth quarter: every shot made, every player getting his own, every HELLO PLAYOFFS t-shirt proudly stretched over outfit and a few whipped through the air by the Barclays faithful. It was great to watch, and if the Bulls can’t get any healthier over the next few days, this might not be the hotly contested series predicted by so many NBA pundits. What a way to kick off franchise history.
° Loved how those Brooklyn black and Chicago red uniforms played off each other; I remarked that the two squads seemed like warring factions of White Stripes backup dancers, hooping for the right to stand directly next to Jack and Meg. (I assume this might’ve been a dilemma during some mid-00′s MTV award show.)
° This might scan as heresy, but Joe Johnson had such an easier time getting his points when he was playing with the second unit that the Nets might consider using him as more of a bench asset. He’s their best iso scorer, regardless of your unreasonably positive feelings re: Andray Blatche, and it might be better if he’s able to conserve his energy for when the reserve offense needs to get going. Then again, what do I know? This was a blowout, so maybe however they were playing tonight doesn’t matter in the long run.
° So nice to see a redemptive game from Gerald Wallace, who got a big Barclays chant with every risky decision that turned out well, a far cry from the efforts of a few weeks and months ago when he couldn’t have been shooting worse if you’d fixed him a brain parasite. He gave the Nets a transition element that they’re sometimes lacking—if he keeps it going, their offense will be a lot more enjoyable to watch.
° The YES Network showed a stat saying that Deron Williams and Isiah Thomas are the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points and 10 assists in their first three playoff series. Lest you forget that Deron was a beast in the postseason with Utah, he had this game.
° At times, Joakim Noah just looked like he should’ve been benched altogether. He played just 13:27, with the Bulls riding a Boozer-Gibson front court that did absolutely nothing against Brook.
° Appearing at what’ll be his first and hopefully not last Nets playoff series, soon-to-be-former minority owner Jay-Z was wearing what appeared to be a leather hat with a diamond-studded strap. Let’s see Mikhail Prokhorov pull that one off.
° Speaking of Prokhorov, he gave a speech before the game started that roughly translated to, “We will bathe in the blood of our enemies.” Very inspiring stuff.
° Andray Blatche in the playoffs. We did it, everyone.
Call the radio right now / Deron Williams just put it down
From our buddies over at The Brooklyn Game, here’s a shot of Deron’s immaculate two-handed dunk in the third quarter. There’s a statement!
Game 2 on Monday night. Let’s hope the team keeps it going.