Game Two wound up being a pretty thrilling victory to watch with Noah's heroics, but much of it throughout was some ugly junked-up basketball. Or sweet, beautiful Thibsball if you're so inclined. The evening started out as a succession of poor shots, turnovers, and referees looking at monitors before things settled in. And in the beginning, it look like the Nets were trying to recapture some of what they were did in the series opener but were just not finishing the plays, and then the Bulls defense only got stronger as the game went on.
In the theme of things being much different in game two, Gerald Wallace's first stint was a complete dud. He was 1-3 from the field and out with two fouls, the second maybe not a great call but it makes up for his uncalled mauling of Jimmy Butler in the first game. Wallace never got on track, and wound up 1-7 from the field and on the bench for most of the 4th quarter. Meanwhile, though Luol Deng didn't have a vintage performance, he was far more aggressive than in game one. The Bulls went to him on their first few possessions and Deng put up 6 more shots in game two, finishing the team's high scorer with 15 points (including a big run-stopping jumper in the 4th).
The more striking fall back to earth for Brooklyn was what we saw from Deron Williams. Kirk Hinrich was all over Williams and we saw very little of the mayhem that Williams brought in transition on Saturday. The Bulls did a much better job getting back defensively, were more keyed in to the Nets actual weapons (Wallace going back to crap helped with this) and Hinrich was very physical while not allowing as many blow-bys. Williams had only 2 points in the first half, and finished with a paltry 8 points on 1-9 shooting overall. He did have 8 of his 10 assists in the first half but if the Bulls win the PG spot in any game by any margin that's a really good sign. Hinrich started the game out 4-4 from the field, leading off the 3rd quarter with a three-pointer in Deron's face. Though he then missed his next 6 shots because he's Kirk Hinrich after all, overall he had a very solid 13 points. He drew FTs! Kirk!
Defensively, Hinrich always at least made it uncomfortable for Williams to where he thought to pass first, though on a string of Brook Lopez jumpers to end the first half it looked like that strategy may backfire a bit. Lopez once again had a big first half (14 out of his 21 points). Part of the problem was that Joakim Noah was unable to cover nearly enough ground on his bad feet, and looked like a liability in that first half whether it was contesting jumpers or being able to secure rebounds inside. Nazr Mohammed got the call of being the first big off the bench and delivered a great effort in his 17 minutes, not only forcing a more physical matchup on Lopez but delivering offensively as well hitting 4-5 from the field. You read that right, Nazr hit 4 shots in a playoff game.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Noah looked revitalized in the fourth quarter. On one leg, Noah accumulated 9 points, 6 rebounds, and a block and was the leading part of multiple runs in that final period to keep the Bulls lead out of reach. The guy was simply phenomenal and looked to be going purely on adrenaline.
What also helped his cause was the Nets finally adjusted by bringing in some of their more offensive-minded players off the bench for crunch-time minutes like CJ Watson and Andray Blatche, sliding Joe Johnson to the SF. That looked to provide some more spacing for them, but it also meant the inside was more available to Noah to do work, and against all odds he was still able to accomplish that.
Noah finished just under the 26 minutes 'limit' Thibodeau declared he was on before the game, and if the feet died on this night, they did so doing what they loved.
- Some rotation shuffling from Thibs: I mentioned Nazr getting the call over Taj, but what also changed was Marco Belinelli playing first over Hamilton with Rip receiving a DNP. And when the Nets went to two-PGs with Watson/Williams, Thibs always brought Nate Robinson in alongside Kirk.
- Total balance of scoring from the Bulls. As mentioned Deng was the high-mark at 15. Hinrich and Boozer had 13, Noah's 11, and a solid night from a lot of the bench, beyond Nazr's work: Belinelli had some nice displays of aggression with 8 points, Nate hit that huge 4th quarter three off the Noah rebound and finished with 11, Taj Gibson battled foul trouble again but was 3-3 from the field. I didn't get into the Bulls offense much but they had way more chances to run tonight and it gave them far more opportunities at better looks.
- Jimmy Butler didn't contribute much scoring and had one of his lowest minutes totals in a while (just under 30), but though he did blow a couple defensive rotations he had enough stretches locked in with Joe Johnson to be at least commendable. Johnson hit back-to-back threes in the 4th but still wound up with only 17 points on 18 shots in his 39 minutes.
- Marshon Brooks made a brief appearance and Kris Humphries logged significant time, exhibiting how desperate the Nets were for any kind of offense. TNT's Steve Kerr was pleading during the Nets terrible 3rd quarter for them to get Wallace and Reggie Evans (who's just the worst) out of there, and wondering if they'll make any adjustments in game three to that effect. I'm not sure what they really want to (or can) change that dramatically. Maybe more of Blatche and CJ Watson (who both shot well again) I suppose, but the real killer is their bench guys include more dead weight like Bogans and Stackhouse. So there's some adjustments available but they really just need Deron Williams to be amazing and Gerald Wallace to be not-terrible. Hey, you know what talking about the Nets making adjustments means: it's a series again!