That epic Game 4 between the Bulls and Nets had things turning towards the worse in the 4th quarter. Both teams had surprisingly good offensive performances but the Bulls looked to be in a hole too deep. The 3rd quarter had ended somehow with Brook Lopez hitting a three. Brooklyn had the Bulls in the penalty with 7 minutes remaining in that 4th quarter. Nate Robinson was laid out by a Gerald Wallace screen. A 7-0 Nets run culminated in Carlos Boozer's transition defense consisting of running away from the ball to defend god-knows-who in the backcourt as Gerald Wallace scored a layup. Brooklyn was up 14 points.
We all by now (hey, I had to get all the details the day-after...it happens) know what happened soon after: Nate Robinson commits a turnover and CJ Watson is wide open heading to the rim, and he blows the dunk. That Watson even tried to dunk was rare, as he hadn't attempted one in over 2 years. Jimmy Butler ran back on defense (Kirk had his head down, heh. To be fair, he played 87 minutes on Saturday) to keep Watson from undoing his crucial mistake and the Bulls run was on. 14-0 to be exact, and a tie game at the end of regulation.
This fantastic breakdown from The Team Rebound goes into each possession and their heroes and goats. Or if we're being less mean, I guess...some players performing better than others. At the beginning of the Bulls 3 minute burst, Tom Thibodeau had the ingenious tactical move to intentionally foul Evans and Wallace on consecutive possessions. As pointed out on The Team Rebound's breakdown, this was more to extend the length of the game than an expectation of keeping the Nets from scoring, but as it turned out both Nets missed each of their free throws. Wallace in particular had a really bad final stretch, of which those FTs were only a part: he had the nonsensical blatant grab of Luol Deng as Deng was closing out on a three. He was the inbounder who just stood for 5 seconds as his plan A (Watson) fell down which resulted in another turnover (in the 3rd OT Hinrich was in that same situation and called the timeout). Wallace even got himself a technical foul as well, though that was negated by the referees putting one on Boozer as well.
Meanwhile, Deron Williams was in the middle of a horrid stretch to end the game (where he was 2-12 to end the game into the three overtimes). Their final play call wasn't much of one at all, as Williams went isolation towards a fadeaway in the lane. Lopez, who has been the Nets best and most consistent player all series, even contributed to the Nets collapse in his own way, failing to get off the ground once while Joakim Noah was able to attempt two tip-ins that eventually tied the game leading to that Williams drive.
Of course, I'm burying the lead of what really made the difference in the Bulls stealing this game. The Nets had their mistakes, but there may not have been anything that could deny what Nate Robinson was pulling. Here's the full video of his 4th quarter makes (via Ball Don't Lie).
While Nate is a master at creating space, he barely had a sliver in some of those but was still able to mostly-square up and use amazing touch. He also had an assist on the next scoring play to Boozer.
By the final buzzer of the 4th quarter, the Nets may have been emotionally cooked realizing that they were at least going to have to play extra periods in a game that had seemingly sealed. But there was still work to do from the Bulls side, and Nate wasn't done providing it. He kept the pressure up all through overtime, while often having to switch on to Gerald Wallace on the other end of the floor. While it may have looked at times like the Bulls were just letting Nate run amok, it was actually oftentimes within an offensive structure predicated on Robinson's ability to almost-always be able to turn the corner against Williams using a high screen. From there, Nate showed ability to pass to open bigs as the Nets would help. This was in counter to what the Nets were doing, which was a lot of Williams and Johnson trying just-as-difficult shots but from a step-back release instead of attacking the basket (though Joe Johnson did have a couple of those preferred attempts to close out the first overtime).
Of course, Nate had one more totally-batshit-crazy shot left to go.
We've been kind of waiting for a 'Nate Robinson game' in this series, one where until now he's become most notable for having some bizarre (and seemingly one-sided?) feud with Watson. It came to a head with a boneheaded attack earlier in game 4, reinforcing what Robinson is as a personality: 'polarizing', to put it nicely. I call him more 'a jackass', but I probably wouldn't be a very good NBA teammate and his real ones love him. Nate feeds on feeling slighted, whether it's real or imagined, and that feeling is also why he's one of those 'irrational confidence' players Bill Simmons always cites as an necessary ingredient to a winning team.
So it's tough to really care if Nate's annoying if he can shoot like that. He fantastically delivered not only one of 'those games' to an insane degree on Saturday, but it came in a game that Brooklyn had taken control of. It may have been a bit of the Nets choking, but credit is mostly to Robinson for providing a stretch like he has done countless times all season. Glad that...nuisance (pain in the ass?) is on our side.
And to be honest, these post-game quotes have me doing an about-face on the guy:
"I always think I'm on fire," he said after scoring 34 points in the Bulls' wild 142-134, triple-overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets. "Like the old school game, 'NBA Jam,' you make a couple and the rim's on fire and when you shoot the ball, the ball's on fire. I feel like that at times. Well, all the time. When I'm in the game, I play with a lot of confidence and you kind of got to lie to yourself that you can't miss."
"I tease coach a lot, because it seems like every shot I shoot, he's mad regardless," Robinson said, adding, "Everybody knows coach is a drill sergeant, but he has a heart somewhere in there. I know he does. He smiles every blue moon and it's good to see."
Oh Nate, how can I be mad at you, ever? Go win us another playoff game in the next three so we can ride your crazy playmaking for a couple thrillers against Miami.
For the full perspective on how great Nate was, ESPN's stat department is here to help:
Nate Robinson doubled his previous playoff career high with 34 points, including 23 in the fourth quarter. That's one shy of the Bulls record for most points in any quarter of a game in Bulls playoff history.
Michael Jordan holds that mark with 24 points in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of the 1990 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Robinson had 29 points in the fourth quarter and overtimes, including nine baskets from outside the paint. That matched the most points scored after the third quarter of a playoff game by anyone in the last 15 seasons.
Robinson's 34 points are the most scored by a Bulls reserve in a playoff game since starters were recorded.