Brook Lopez, as always, is the first Brooklyn Nets player to address the media. Unlike always, roughly 30-40 media members, complete with television cameras, microphones, cell phone recorders blanket him, in a seemingly endless swarm to hear his thoughts on the game, on Brooklyn's first season, and what could have gone differently. Unlike always, Lopez hasn't had any time to get changed, so all cameras focus on his chest and upwards: below the shirt, Lopez is wearing only a towel.
Lopez sighs before taking the first question. Despite the sea of media, Lopez is as consistent off the court as he is on it. He's been a good soldier all season; he provides media members with the quotes they need and proper angles about playing hard, trusting teammates, providing "the boost," and taking blame even when the blame isn't necessary. He deflects praise. He says he should have done more when his teammates and coach did more than enough. He stares down at his feet, and straight ahead above the crowd of audio gobblers, but rarely directly at someone. He kindly and respectfully answers the same questions, with slightly different wording, from multiple media members. He is Brooklyn's goofy public relations official, and in proper PR fashion, you'll never get him to criticize anyone but himself.
Soon after Lopez finishes talking, the media amoeba huddles around Jerry Stackhouse, primarily because one camera swung in that direction. The hivemind goes where it smells a story, and Stackhouse can provide one; He is Brooklyn's veteran leadership, 38 years old and a principle member of the National Basketball Player's Association, Stackhouse may have something to say that other guys haven't learned yet.
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"I’m proud of this team and we’re going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn, and we’re going to win” - Joakim Noah following the Bulls loss in game six. Noah, who had one of the most inspiring games of his career, did just what he said the Bulls would do: win.
For tonight's recap, we're going to break it up into two parts; the first half and the second half, because that's exactly what tonight was for the Brooklyn Nets -- a two-part game.
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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.
BY JOHN HOOD
The below chart details the offensive and defensive ratings for the Brooklyn Nets during this series when Andray Blatche shares the court with Brook Lopez, and when he doesn't. As you can see, there's a significant disparity:
Roundtable on Game 7 between the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets:
1. The Chicago Bulls will win if...
- Devin Kharpertian: The Nets let them hang around. One of Brooklyn's biggest weaknesses this season is a failure to close out games with conviction; too often they face a team with the significant talent advantage and don't capitalize on their biggest weapons. Instead of looking for Joe Johnson as an outlet, they pound the hardwood with fruitless isolations. They underutilize Brook Lopez and allow open shots. They let Nate Robinson drink his magic elixir and Joakim Noah dominate the offensive glass.... MORE →
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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Deng received a spinal tap, otherwise known as a lumbar puncture, a procedure that draws spinal fluid, usually for diagnostic purposes. "As a result of the spinal tap I suffered the worst headache I've ever experienced and been the weakest I've ever felt," Deng said on Twitter. Deng is still hospitalized.
Kirk Hinrich did make the trip with a severely sore calf but is "likely out," according to Thibodeau. Hinrich is officially listed as a game-time decision.
The Chicago Bulls nearly pulled off a victory without Deng and Hinrich in Game 6 at the United Center, falling to the Nets 95-92, which evened the series at 3 games apiece.
Derrick Rose is also officially out, as he has been all season.
(h/t tweets from K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune)