This entire Bulls season has been about overcoming adversity. Between The Derrick Rose Saga, the overhauling of the Bench Mob and an absurd rash of injuries, it certainly has been a trying year for the team. Which is why it's pretty fitting that everything will come down to a Game 7 against the Nets on the road with a roster that has no business competing in a playoff game.
Kirk Hinrich has been out the last two games because he can barely walk. Luol Deng was out last night because he looked like the walking dead. Dude had a freaking spinal tap the night before. Like, seriously? And Derrick Rose can't seem to find his muscle memory. He sure looks good jumping on the bench, though!
As for the guys that were actually in uniform for Game 6, Nate Robinson spent his time on the bench with towels draped over his head and a trash bucket in front of him, but he still found a way to score 18 points and embarrass Kris Humphries. Taj Gibson was probably at about 50% (yeah Reggie Rose, I can put arbitrary percentages of people's health, too) due to his knee and the flu bug that's going around, but he tried his best to make a defensive impact despite being on the short end of a few whistles.
And yet, the Zombie Bulls never gave up, never surrendered in arguably their most gutsy performance of the season in a heartbreaking 95-92 loss. Yes, the Bulls have beaten the Nets extremely short-handed before. Yes, the Bulls ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak with an undermanned roster. But there's something different about doing it in the playoffs, and it really was incredible to see this group compete their ass off and give the Nets a run for their money.
Jimmy Butler played all 48 minutes, and despite a poor shooting night (4-of-13), he did an excellent job getting to the line (8-of-9) and also containing Deron Williams in the second half. Williams did not make a single field goal in the second half and was a non-factor down the stretch as the Nets nearly crumbled.
Marco Belinelli played 46 minutes and led the team with 22 points and seven assists. His hit-and-miss ability to run pick-and-roll was a huge hit early, as he sliced and diced the Nets' defense in the first quarter. Unfortunately, he ran out of gas in the fourth quarter and finished the game with a 1-of-8 shooting stretch. With the big shots he hit all year, I thought for sure he was going to knock down that game-tying three, but it was simply not to be.
And of course, there's Joakim Noah. yfBB detailed Noah's borderline heroic effort pretty well in his recap, but I wanted to single him out once again here. Jo was clearly into the game from the start, getting to numerous loose balls and fighting for offensive rebounds better than he has all series. And although Brook Lopez got off to a hot start, Noah clamped down in the second half, bodying up the Nets' All-Star and forcing him into a bunch of tough shots. Like Williams, Lopez folded in the second half, making just two baskets. Noah also epitomized the Bulls' fight to the last whistle mantra, tying up Williams with seconds to go to give the Bulls that one last chance. Ian Levy of Hickory-High highlighted Noah's great fourth quarter play, which really showed off Jo's versatility.
I guess I'll even give some credit to Carlos Boozer. Boozer didn't have the best game in the world, but he did finish with 14 and 13 and helped the Bulls get off to a hot start thanks to his pick-and-roll work with Belinelli. He also did yeoman's work on the offensive glass, especially later in the game, as he grabbed three of the Bulls' 10 offensive boards in the second half. Boozer did commit some silly fouls and was torched by Humphries at least once (I may be forgetting more), but he competed hard and gave the Bulls some nice contributions.
Going back to Brooklyn for a Game 7 with this depleted roster is not a good place to be. But I'm certainly not going to count the Bulls out. Even if Hinrich and Deng are unable to go or are extremely limited, we know the rest of these Bulls won't go down without a fight. We also know that these Nets are susceptible to a collapse, which we saw in Game 4 and almost saw again last night. Brooklyn shot 27.8 percent overall and went 13-of-23 from the free throw line in the second half last night, and it almost seemed like they were just praying for the clock to run out. Although I will give credit to Andray Blatche for some timely buckets and those clutch free throws. I thought for sure he would gag on one of those.
The odds are against the Bulls in Game 7. But the odds have been stacked against them all year. Yet they still have managed to have a lot of sex...er success this season given the circumstances, and hopefully Thibs and this gritty (had to use this word once) squad can pull one more rabbit out of their hat. Noah says they will. We'll just have to wait and see.
And damn it, I want a shot at the Heat, even if it means impending doom.