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.
After yielding a lead late into the fourth quarter and eventually succumbing to the Bulls in triple overtime, the Nets faced a 3-1 series deficit.
Now, after two straight wins, the Nets are one game away from completing the comeback and clinching the series.
To do so, however, the Nets will need to play their best game of the series. Offensively, the Nets have seemed to figure out the right mix of lineup combinations and schemes to finally counteract this stingy Bulls defense. Assuming the Nets can keep taking advantage of this depleted Bulls roster, adjustments have to come on the defensive side of the ball to capture a Game 7 victory.
Here's the two biggest adjustments the Nets need to make to assure victory:
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Joakim Noah struggled to stay on the floor for Game 1 as the Brooklyn Nets dominated his Chicago Bulls, but the tear in his foot won't keep him out just yet.
"I'm all right," Noah told reporters Monday morning, according to the Chicago Tribune.
According to Nick Freidell of ESPN Chicago, Noah will play 20-25 minutes.
Noah, struggling with plantar fasciitis (a tear in the connective tissue which supports the arch on the bottom of the foot) played a little over 13 minutes in Game 1 and was clearly hobbling from end to end. He finished with four points on 2-6 shooting, adding five rebounds.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says the Bulls' medical staff has a minutes limit for Noah but wouldn't reveal anything further. Meanwhile, Zach Harper of CBS wonders aloud: is everyone okay with watching Joakim Noah play through obvious pain while Bulls star guard Derrick Rose sits on the sideline?
Read More: Chicago Tribune -- Noah Limited As Bulls Try To Even Series
Read More: CBS Sports -- Is everybody OK with Derrick Rose watching Joakim Noah play injured?
Chicago Bulls starting center Joakim Noah is suited up and will try to play tonight in Game 1 of the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets, according to Chicago Tribune journalist K.C. Johnson. Noah is battling plantar fasciitis in his left foot and has expressed displeasure in himself for playing through pain when he needed rest.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told Tim Bontemps of the New York Post that he'll evaluate Noah's pregame warmup before deciding his status, and that depending on how he looks he may start.
Noah, who was born in New York City, averaged a double-double this year and the Bulls were five points better per 100 possessions defensively with him on the court, but he'll be limited by the injury. If Noah is unable to play or start, Nazr Mohammed will still start in his place. Noah played just 14 minutes in each of his last two games, scoring a combined six points and grabbing a combined six rebounds in the time.
Star point guard Derrick Rose, who's status is uncertain for the playoffs, is out for Game 1 and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has said it's unlikely he'll play in the playoffs. The Nets have no major injuries.
Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters this morning that Derrick Rose will not play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets tonight, but could return later in the series depending oh his health.
Rose has not played this season and hasn't played since tearing his ACL in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. The last time Brooklyn and Chicago played on April 4th, I saw Rose was warming up before the game.
Joakim Noah's status for Game 1 is still uncertain. He is fighting plantar fasciitis in his foot and is listed as doubtful.
"I've got a tear in my foot," Noah told reporters in Chicago. "I'm upset at myself because I let this linger for a long time and I have nobody to blame but myself. ... I just wish that I was a little bit smarter. I played games in the regular season that I probably shouldn't have played."
Along with his solid offensive production, Noah is the team's defensive fulcrum; he's arguably the best pick-and-roll defender in the NBA and the Bulls allow just 98.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, a full five points fewer than with him off.
Even if Noah plays, Nazr Mohammad will start in Game 1, scheduled for 8 P.M. Saturday night.
h/t ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
Chicago Bulls starting point guard Kirk Hinrich and starting center Joakim Noah will both sit tonight against the Brooklyn Nets. Hinrich was announced out by the team and Noah told ESPN Chicago that he would not play.
Both players are big blows to Chicago's chances of victory -- Hinrich is a steady, solid point guard and Noah anchors the Bulls defense, currently ranked second in the NBA in efficiency.
Additionally, Bulls starting power forward Carlos Boozer is a game-time decision.