No one said it better than John Schuhmann: tonight’s Game 7 is a “referendum” on all things Brooklyn and all things Nets. In their first playoff series in the borough, the Nets have a chance to win a Game 7 at home for the first time in Brooklyn history — and that includes the Dodgers.
In honor of Game 7, here’s seven things I’m keeping a close eye on heading into tonight.
Deron Williams signed with the Brooklyn Nets in July knowing that this was coming: perhaps not a Game 6, but an opportunity to lead the Brooklyn Nets past the first round of the playoffs in their inaugural season in Brooklyn and for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Williams has had a sometimes-scintillating, sometimes-quiet first round: Williams has had two excellent games (1 and 4), three solid games (3, 5, 6), and one awful shooting night (1-9 in Game 2) in this series. He’s had a game-defining dunk and disappeared for the better part of an entire half. Williams’s performance in Game 7 could be a career-defining moment.
The two-man tandemAndray Blatche and Brook Lopez played 13 minutes together in Game 6 after playing 16 minutes together in three games all series. It was their worst tandem performance of the series — the team only shot 5-17 with the two on the floor — but they still outscored the Bulls 24-21. In 49 minutes this series (or basically one full game), the Nets have outscored Chicago 115-74 when Blatche-Lopez share the floor, and have been outscored 509-488 when they don’t. The Bulls will play shorthanded again tonight, and Joakim Noah has played 176 playoff minutes on one plantar-fasciitis-plagued foot. P.J. Carlesimo may not alter his starting lineup — and in a game like this, I don’t blame him — but if there is any time for these two to get as many minutes as possible to pound a weakened Chicago frontline into submission, it’s tonight.
The big man
Key to that two-man tandem is Brook Lopez, the team’s steadiest contributor all season. He hasn’t skipped a beat in the playoffs, scoring 20 points in each of his first five playoff games before a 17-point performance in Game 6. Offensively, Lopez hasn’t done anything special or different in these six playoff games: he’s finding open space in the paint, backing down Noah in the post (though Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo called curiously fewer post-ups for Lopez in Game 6), and supplementing easy points near the rim and put-backs with his 18-foot jumper. Lopez’s defense has been surprising this series: while he’s still struggled to defend pick-and-rolls, Lopez has keyed in more defending the paint, and the numbers reflect it: the Bulls shoot 48.2% in the paint with Lopez in the game, compared to 58.7% with him on the bench, and Lopez has had multiple blocks in five of six playoff games (including a seven-block explosion in Game 3).
One indictment of Lopez’s defense: through six games, Joakim Noah leads the playoffs with 24 offensive rebounds on one foot. He’s taken advantage of weak team defense to slip to the rim for easy points. He’s without a doubt been limited — he’s shooting just 38% from the field in the playoffs — but Noah’s been a key cog in non-scoring offense for Chicago.
The Nets need Lopez to do what he’s always done, plus just a bit more, to ensure sealing the deal tonight.