Game Recaps

Bulls 92, Nets 90: Down and out against a depleted team


The gist of it

I don’t know how the Bulls do it, but they did it again. Missing five rotation players, enough for a starting lineup, and facing a higher seeded team playing a much anticipated home game after two weeks on the road, they ground it out after falling behind by an early double digits before sticking it to the Nets in the end—on a Nate Robinson dagger, no less. Give Tom Thibodeau credit for wringing O negative from a stone, because it doesn’t seem to matter who’s on the court for the Bulls—they hang around long enough to get a final few chances, and then execute as well they can. You might’ve expected the Nets to be more dialed in after returning to the Barclays Center, but it was an oddly un-even night: Joe Johnson clearly wasn’t fully there after missing his last five games, and the team battled with its usual third quarter effort issues. That early lead was swiftly evaporated by the end of the third quarter, and though a bout of back-and-forth hysterics toward the end made things exciting, the Nets failed to put this one away. A tough loss, but at least they held up in the end rather than disappearing completely. (Yes, I’m an insistently glass half-full dude.)

There’s been some carping over whether Brooklyn should try to lose in order to fall to a more schedule-friendly seed—i.e. the one that would take them away from Miami in the second round—but honestly, I’m not sure it matters. If you lose to Miami in the second or third round, what’s the difference? May as well play it out and do as best as you can. At any rate, the Nets are holding steady in the fourth seed for now, though Chicago is close—which, again, is frankly amazing given the number of players who’ve missed time, but that’s how it is.


° I’m a Bulls fan, which I’ve talked a little bit about in previous posts and on the first podcast—I grew up in Chicago during the latter Jordan years, which is about all it takes to get a kid into basketball. I’ve been trying to navigate this space of becoming a fan of a second team as you get older, because I was becoming a Nets fan even before starting this blog—I live in Brooklyn, and I knew I wanted to root for a local team that wasn’t the Knicks. I confess I was still instinctively rooting for the Bulls when they met a few months ago, but last night, I found myself genuinely pulling for the Nets to take this and was decently bummed out when they didn’t. I know, I know: Not something that a Nets blogger should be fully admitting, his struggle for root for the team he writes about, but it’s not entirely easy to reprogram 24 years of singular fandom—and I’m pleasantly surprised to find out that I’m finding space to cheer for two teams without contradicting myself, which is atypical of the tribal approach toward sports. I can walk between both worlds, like Blade.

° Deron Williams, superstar: He scored seven points in the final four minutes, including a pair of And-1s, finishing some tough layups and proving beyond a doubt that he’s back into elite playing condition—which, you know, is nice.

° Thibodeau, Coach of the Year: After letting Brook Lopez have his way in the first quarter with Chicago’s depleted frontcourt—the one missing both its All-Defensive bigs, while relying on a 35-year old journeyman and Carlos Boozer to stem the tide—the Bulls did a pretty good job of negating him afterwards, denying him inside position and knocking him around to allow just ten points in the remaining three quarters. Lopez had an ugly final sequence, too: He threw the bad pass that led to Nate Rob’s go-ahead points, and couldn’t get an open look that would’ve tied the game to fall.

° Speaking of which—not to have that conversation about “taking the shot,” but Deron Williams drove inside on the game’s final play before kicking it out to Lopez way in the corner. The proper basketball play, given Lopez’s open-ness and how he’s generally good from that distance, but it’s hard to pass up a shot at the rim when you’re already inside; not exactly shades of Elijah Johnson’s unnecessary passing at the end of Kansas-Michigan, but a decent “what if?” considering the Nets lost the game.

° TNT with a weird montage showing the ups and downs of Chicago’s year. First, they lost their generationally defining superstar to a potentially career altering injury! And then they broke Miami’s streak, which was kind of cool in a rude boy way. That’s a hell of a low contrasted against an alright high.

° Mike Fratello astutely pointed out that Deron might’ve ripped his pull-up three in transition move from John Stockton, who preceded him in Utah and loved to do the same thing—not the most unique move as far as NBA moves go, but a nice bit of basketball DNA passed from generation to generation. I’d love to see an advanced breakdown of how specific tendencies carry over between position players at the same spot in different franchises, given coaching continuity and what’s emphasized in practice. Deron and Stockton are fairly different point guards, but they were presumably taught the same things under Jerry Sloan. Then again, most coaches don’t last as long as Sloan.

° The seats were kind of slow to fill up after coming back from the half; I think I counted some mostly empty rows even halfway through the third quarter. I know it’s tempting to stick it out in line for a Nathan’s dog, but sometimes you’ve got to cut your losses and haul ass back to catch the game.

° This wildly, wildly off target Hinrich-to-Boozer (?) lob is immensely hypnotic.

Hold turbo!

This is a deeply specific thing to point out, but sometimes when playing one of the NBA 2K games one’s mind will freeze when a player gets the ball with an open lane, and will take an uncontested jump shot rather than following through for an easy dunk. That’s all I could think of watching Kris Humphries catch the ball with no one in front of him, and shoot rather than move inside. Just like in 2K, it went in!

Up next: Charlotte on Saturday night, at home.