It's all my fault, you realize.
After taking Game 4 off to camp in the Catskills to reward a patient and understanding significant other - which naturally resulted in "the kind of game we only get a handful of times a decade" - I returned to Brooklyn for game five knowing the outcome before it even began.
That Kirk Hinrich - or as I've come to call him this year, Hurt Kinrich - would miss the contest with calf soreness after literally playing for an hour in game four was only the beginning. I looked on TiqIq (shout out!) for a ticket halfway through the day on Monday only to find that Nets fans were showing a significant lack of interest in an underperforming team on the brink of elimination. I rejoiced in my half-price seat to a Bulls playoff game, even as a familiar pang of fear arose somewhere from the recesses of my mind.
I left work promptly at six o'clock, knowing that the last time I tried to escape Manhattan for a 7 p.m. start at Barclays I ended up arriving halfway through a rousing edition of the national anthem, forcing me to hold an oversize beer to my chest until the caterwauling ceased ('Merica!). But of course on this occasion the D train ran fast and undelayed, cruising over the Manhattan Bridge in record time and dumping me out in front of the Barclays Center oculus with almost half an hour to spare. Awooga alarms echoed across my withered sports fan psyche.
I'm not superstitious until it behooves me to do so for the sake of entertainment and sanity. Ergo, rooting for Chicago sports. And with the result of game 4 due in large part to my complete absence (so I've told myself) and so many fortunate events unfolding before the tip-off for Game 5, I was in full pre-wince.
Truthfully, the Bulls were closer to winning the game than I ever thought possible, with the game neck-and-neck until the Nets finishing kick with four minutes left. There was too much for Chicago to overcome ultimately. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer's below average scoring efforts combined with a pair of found money performances from the Nets' bench was enough by itself. That I sprinkled in my own bad juju was just the icing on a profoundly unappetizing cake.
To the rest of the notes:
- While it may serve to overstate the value of Kirk, the Bulls will have trouble winning another game unless he can come back and play effectively moving forward. Not only for his defensive presence against Deron Williams - who bounced back with a very solid 23 and 10 - but for how it allows the rest of the Bulls to play on both ends. Without Kirk, the Bulls have to cross match to hide Nate Robinson, who has to play extended minutes and cannot be the scoring burst off the bench Chicago so desperately needs. It also pushes Lu into an active defensive role on every possession, even going so far as to have Deng defend Williams in the game's deciding moments. The Bulls need Deng's offense to win, and since he never comes off the floor, he needs a few possessions to camp out on a Gerald Wallace or Reggie Evans in order to sustain his effectiveness on both ends. Kirk isn't an irreplaceable star, but his absence stretches the Bulls in ways they can ill afford.
- Along the same lines, Lu and Carlos Boozer cannot combine for 22 points if the Bulls intend to win with any regularity. Even with the solid offensive production of Jimmy Butler, who had his best playoff game to date and looked like a future starting 2 guard, Chicago must get at least 30 points from its two offensive centerpieces in order to stay afloat. In particular, eight shot attempts is not enough for Boozer, seeing as he has been the one player the Nets have had no answer for defensively. Especially in light of Boozer's defense (which was a special brand of 'feh' on Monday night), the Bulls must emphasize him on the other end.
- I take it all back on Luol needing to shoot more threes. He is 1-18 so far in this series. Long live the mid-range two pointer!
- Brook Lopez continues to be a beast on offense for which the Bulls have no answer, but his outlier-level rebounding performance along with a combined 21 points and 11 rebounds from bench afterthoughts Andray Blatche and Kris Humphries really spelled doom for the Bulls. Blatche in particular was a big problem down the stretch as the Nets pulled away in the fourth quarter with him on the floor in lieu of Evans.
- Taj Gibson remains somewhat unnoticeable in this series as he continues to recover from a badly sprained knee, but even if healthy there really isn't anyone on the Nets for him to guard. Lopez is too long, too big, and too skilled for Taj to have a shot, but even Blatche had great success bulling his way towards the basket with Taj helpless to stop him. Gibson is at his best contesting the weak side of the rim, swatting wings that dare make a run to the rim and even capably defending the perimeter off of switches and pick and rolls. Be it personnel, deployment or simply a matter of health, Taj has been a non-factor in this opening round series.
- Finally, there is this guy, who some call the dancing hipster and I just call extremely f*cking annoying. I fail to understand the joy in coming to each and every NBA game with the sole purpose of finding one's way onto the jumbotron via goofy dances and artificial fandom. Doesn't he know that true fans gripe about scoreboard malfunctions, shitty pick and roll defense and questionable ownership decisions? I'm sure this particular individual is a lovely guy whose parents love him dearly, and positivity is a beautiful thing. But after watching him derp-dance for the better part of an NBA season wearing the same neon shirt-over-personalized jersey and black rim glasses, I find myself wanting to steal a T-shirt gun, load it up at a nearby dog park and wait for him in the parking lot.
Maybe the Bulls should just win game 6 at the United Center and save me a really embarrassing legal episode. Let us pray.