The Chicago Bulls have a funny way of vacillating between two completely distinct narratives. Sometimes they're an impossible to watch bunch devoid of shot creators, ultimately flawed by ownership that isn't fully committed to bringing Chicago a winner. Sometimes they're straight-up warriors: valiant and gritty and supremely well-coached, able to snag victories they have no business securing against far more talented teams under difficult circumstances.
If there's a player who embodies both threads, it's Kirk Hinrich. There are (many) times when the (hard) captain can't hit a three-pointer to save his soul, bricks free throws and looks physically overmatched, all while reminding you that this was the Bulls' biggest free agent acquisition, mostly because he was polite to the owner during chance meetings in the Berto Center corridors. And then sometimes Hinrich is out there tackling LeBron or ripping the ball away from Chris Bosh's gangly arms, running the offense with a steady hand and playing sturdy defense. The Bulls don't exactly go as Hinrich goes -- that would be an awfully big leap to make -- but it's safe to say that a good Kirk Hinrich game is a nice jumping off point.
Yes, the Bulls got a good Kirk Hinrich game against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of their first round series, and they needed it desperately. The Bulls were torched by Nets star Deron Williams in Game 1; he scored 22 points, controlled the tempo and reinforced that wins are hard to come by in the playoffs if you don't have a superstar. The story of Williams' season is well-documented -- he was terrible in the first half while dealing with ankle issues, but was outstanding after the All-Star break -- and that storyline seemed to come full circle as he threw down a reverse dunk in the second half of Game 1. Deron Williams was back, the Bulls were hobbled and now this series favored the Nets.
How quickly that can all change. The Bulls shut down Williams and backcourt mate Joe Johnson during Game 2, and it was the main reason the Bulls were able to earn a 90-82 victory to tie the series up heading back to Chicago. Hinrich was outstanding -- he finished with 13 points on 10 shots, five assists and two steals while only turning the ball over once. Hinrich played 35 minutes -- which we know is no easy task for him -- and all of them were important. Williams finished 1-of-9 for eight points, Joe Johnson needed 18 shots to score 17 points, and suddenly the Bulls became the first road team to steal a win in these playoffs.
Hinrich hardly limited Williams alone, far from it. One thing that was evident early on was the Bulls' scheme to pack the paint and avoid giving attention to Brooklyn's lesser offensive threats -- namely Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace. The Bulls don't play traditional man-to-man defense, they guard the ball -- five guys on a string and all that -- and it was evident from the beginning. Those 20-foot jumpers Brook Lopez was hoisting (and routinely draining) in the first half were not an accident: Tom Thibodeau knew Lopez would take those shots if he was open, and he knew 20-footers from Lopez were far preferable to the layups by Williams that doomed the Bulls in Game 1.
The reason the Bulls were able to do what they did was largely because of Joakim Noah, who turned the grittiest, grindiest effort imaginable. Noah played all 25 minutes Thibodeau (or the organization) would allow and provided an immeasurable contribution: not just 11 points and 10 rebounds (nine points and six rebounds in the fourth alone), but a mobile rim protector who, combined with the perimeter defense of Hinrich and Jimmy Butler, helped thwart Brooklyn's inside game. The Nets got way too many layups during their Game 1 victory; Chicago was hellbent on making sure it wouldn't happen again.
Ultimately, the Bulls (and us!) should be happy, even proud, to head back to Chicago with the series tied at 1-1. It's commonly said that playoff series don't begin until the road team steals a game, and the Bulls were the first to strike. You wonder how much these first two games really tell us, though. The Nets played out of their minds in Game 1 -- multiple people said it was the best the team has played all season, something we figured was unsustainable. On the flip side, Deron Williams ain't gonna shoot 1-for-9 again, you can bank on that. Brooklyn's regression to the mean happened in about the most stark way possible during Game 2, and you wonder how they'll counter Thibodeau's adjustments on Thursday at the United Center. It's clear the Nets need shooters to space the floor and keep the Bulls out of the paint, but they don't really have them. So long as Chicago can find a way to score while still keeping Hinrich and Butler on the floor to limit the Nets' backcourt, the Bulls will have a good shot to win this series.
I don't think anything is decided yet, though. This is going to be a long, slow, ugly, very competitive series with a lot more games closer to Game 2 than Game 1. It's refreshing to know the Bulls are capable of digging deep and pulling out those 50/50 games.
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I love everything about this. (I believe it was after the Butler dunk in the third quarter)
Noah is killing it, Taj is killing it, Nate is killing it. These dudes are just happy to be alive. Even D. Rose jumping up and down! I also enjoy Rip just standing and clapping like the old man he is.
So far as turning points go, this was a big one:
Noah saved the ball, the Bulls kept possession and Nate drilled a three. Noah was jacked up about it:
Finally, two good tweets:
"Coach, Noah is at his minutes limi..urgkkkk" *Thibodeau strangles trainer*— netw3rk (@netw3rk) April 23, 2013
Joakim gets asked about Hinrich, responds by saying "Kirky Worky."— Anthony Bain (@AnthonyBain) April 23, 2013