Before we look forward to the upcoming playoff series between the Bulls and Nets, we'd like to take a look back at what happened in the four-game regular season series. We all know by now that regular season success doesn't always translate to postseason success, but going back to those games can give us somewhat of an idea of what we can expect moving forward.
The Bulls won the season series 3-1, and they were missing at least two key rotation players in each game (two depending on if you count Richard Hamilton, who has been borderline useless for a while). The Nets were pretty much completely healthy in every game, but if we want to be somewhat fair here, they were on the second of a back-to-back in three of the four games. Although out of the three front-ends, two were blowouts.
So without further ado, let's go back in time (cue the shitty Pitbull song if you hate yourself).
Who the Bulls were missing: Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich
This certainly wasn't the prettiest of games, as the Bulls found themselves down 77-71 midway through the fourth quarter. But then it turned into...Teague Time. In one of the few strong performances from the rarely used rookie point guard all season, Marquis Teague scored two straight buckets and played some stellar defense on Deron Williams down the stretch. Williams scored 24 points on the night, but he had just five in the fourth quarter, with three of those coming on a meaningless three at the buzzer.
Teague then ceded hero duties to Marco Belinelli, who led the Bulls with 19 points and hit a game-winning layup with 22.1 seconds left. On the play, Brook Lopez completely botched the pick-and-roll coverage, allowing Belinelli a clear path to the lane (game-winner at about the 57 second mark):
Luol Deng had 17 points, Carlos Boozer had 15 and Joakim Noah had 12 points and 10 rebounds. In addition to Williams' 24, Lopez had 18 points and 10 (!!!) rebounds, while Joe Johnson had 16 points. But none of those guys shot 50 percent, and the Nets as a team shot a woeful 38.7 percent on the night.
Who the Bulls were missing: Noah, Boozer and Hinrich
The Bulls were without their starting frontcourt and their gritty leader, but still almost found a way to beat a fully stocked Nets squad. The Bulls actually led by two going into the fourth quarter, but it was the Nets' bench that was able to seize control of the game. MarShon Brooks, Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson combined to score 25 of the 30 Nets points in the final frame.
It was Brooks who got the Nets started in the fourth, but it was Blatche who delivered the dagger. After the Bulls had improbably fought back to within two points, Blatche bullied a noticeably tired Taj Gibson down low and finished an and-1 to put the Nets back up five. If you recall, Gibson played all 48 in this one and Deng got just four seconds of rest.
Deng and Belinelli led the Bulls with 18 points apiece, while Gibson had 16 points and nine rebounds. Nate Robinson had 12 points and 11 assists, but he shot just 4-of-16. Lopez had 20 points to lead the Nets, who shot a scorching 52.0 percent but still barely won.
Who the Bulls were missing: Gibson and Hamilton
After an entertaining first quarter ended in a 27-27 tie, the Bulls ran away in the second quarter and cruised to an easy victory. Noah had one of his better performances of the season, putting up 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Jo also tallied 10 boards, five assists and four blocks. Boozer also played well, pouring in 20 points and nabbing five steals. BOOZER DEFENSE!
Lopez had another strong outing with 22 points, but nobody else on the Nets did anything noteworthy. The Nets shot just 44.4 percent and turned the ball over a whopping 21 times, which led to 24 Bulls points.
The Bulls led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter, but took the foot off the gas a bit toward the end. Of course, Thibs didn't appreciate that one bit, which led to most of the starters being on the floor at the buzzer of a game that was well in hand (sparked quite a bit of anger in the comments of our recap).
Who the Bulls were missing: Noah, Gibson, Hamilton and Belinelli
It looked like it was going to be a long day at the office for the Bulls, as they got off to a horrific start thanks to some beasting by Lopez. The Nets' big man scored 18 points in the first quarter, picking apart Nazr Mohammed piece-by-piece. Being on the road with all the injuries, it would have seemed logical to just pack things in for the night.
But there's no packing it in in Thibs Ball (usually), and the Bulls slowly crept their way back into the game. The Bulls truly turned things around in the third quarter, with Boozer leading a balanced offensive attack. Boozer had 10 points and seven rebounds in the third, part of a monster 29-point, 18-rebound performance.
What had been a snoozer turned into an exciting back-and-forth affair, with both teams trading blows. Jimmy Butler did this:
Then Williams took over for a stretch in the fourth, and after a Johnson three, one Boozer free throw and another Deron bucket, the Nets led by three with just under a minute left. After a Deng jumper, this happened:
And on the final couple of possessions, the Bulls' defense got big. The Nets went down in the post to Lopez, but Mohammed held his ground and forced the big man into a horrific pass that was picked off by Robinson. Nate then came down and buried a giant killer (R.I.P. Johnny Red Kerr) that was reminiscent of Derrick "not quite ready" Rose.
Lopez then successfully ruined his great start, getting blocked by Mohammed at the rim on one possession and missing a wide open jumper at the buzzer on the next.
One underrated aspect of the last minute or so was the fact that Butler checked Williams, who did finish with an excellent line of 30 points and 10 assists. But on the last two possessions, Butler denied Williams any kind of open look at the basket, which forced the former U of I star to dish off to Lopez. We have seen Jimmy get switched onto point guards quite a bit lately, which is a nice defensive weapon to have if Hinrich is struggling.
Series Statistical Summary
Boozer (3 GP): 35.8 minutes, 21.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 53.8 FG%
Noah (2 GP): 41.6 minutes, 16.5 points, 10,0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.0 blocks, 56.0 FG%
Deng (4 GP): 44.9 minutes, 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 39.3 FG%, 8.3 3PT%
Belinelli (3 GP): 33.3 minutes, 14.7 points, 3.7 assists, 52.0 FG%, 37.5 3PT%
Gibson (2 GP): 31.7 minutes, 11.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 52.6 FG%
Hinrich (2 GP): 36.1 minutes, 11.0 points, 5.0 assists, 47.4 FG%, 57.1 3PT%
Robinson (4 GP): 27.7 minutes, 10.5 points, 6.3 assists, 36.6 FG%, 25.0 3PT%
Butler (4 GP): 30.8 minuets, 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 44.4 FG%, 16.7 3PT%
Lopez (4 GP): 31.5 minutes, 22.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 52.9 FG%
Williams (4 GP): 37.0 minutes, 19.8 points, 6.8 assists, 41.5 FG%, 42.1 3PT%
Johnson (4 GP): 37.0 minutes, 13.0 points, 3.3 assists, 43.1 FG%, 31.3 3PT%
Blatche (4 GP): 18.3 minutes, 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 47.1 FG%
Wallace (4 GP): 35.5 minutes, 6.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 45.5 FG%
Evans (4 GP): 23.7 minutes, 2.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 33.3 FG%