Despite everything, Brooklyn emerges victorious

Andray Blatche, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson
Crunch time success. (AP)
Crunch time success. (AP)

With Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng sidelined, the Brooklyn Nets had a gaping opportunity to even this series at 3 apiece and force a critical Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls in Brooklyn — and despite their best efforts to sabotage themselves, they did just that.

Facing a team so starved for talent that Tom Thibodeau played a puking Nate Robinson for 42 minutes and Jimmy Butler for all 48, the Nets barely eked out a 95-92 victory in Chicago, riding their new crunch time lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Andray Blatche, and Brook Lopez down the stretch to seal the victory. Without Reggie Evans on the floor, the Bulls couldn’t go to a “hack-a-Reggie” strategy to claw back into the game, and the Nets relied on Blatche, who scored the team’s final five points (three on free throws) to seal the victory.

Despite coming away with a victory, this game was still absolutely frightening. The Nets had no health issues and a massive edge in talent, and could still barely eke out a victory against a team that played Marco Belinelli for all but 1:37. The Nets shot a scorching 55.8% in the first half before shooting just 27.8% in the second. I’m not sure you can have two different shot charts:

First half shot chart #GreenMachine

Second half shot chart. #BLOODEVERYWHERE

Amazingly, the Nets never trailed after the first quarter, even after that quarter finished with 15 lead changes — more lead changes than the entire triple-overtime game Saturday.

Deron Williams played a nearly flawless first half, finishing the first 24 with 14 points on 5-9 shooting and racking up eight assists without committing a turnover. Williams looked like pre-Newark, post-platelet-rich plasma Williams for that first half. Though Williams did push his assist total into double digits, he didn’t record a field goal in the second half, and used Joe Johnson’s terminology to describe his role, calling himself a “decoy” in that second half. But if Williams is healthy and the Nets have other options, a quiet second half in an elimination game could have been so much worse.

The Bulls executed their sets to near perfection, running the Nets ragged with simple but effective pick-and-rolls that the Nets had issues covering all game. “We’re (pause) gonna need to talk about those a little bit,” Popeye Jones told Sarah Kustok at YES Network’s halftime interview. Their discussion didn’t appear to help, as Brooklyn looked confounded by Chicago’s pick-and-roll offense, giving up good looks regardless of how the small & big defenders worked to stop the play.

The Bulls shot 6-7 when their roll men received a pass out of the pick-and-roll last night, and their biggest play created out of the pick-and-roll wasn’t even directly involved: down 93-90, the Bulls eschewed the standardized crunch-time strategy to clear out for their best player (probably because they don’t have one), running a simple play similar to a pick-and-roll: Nate Robinson received a pass after getting a curl screen from Joakim Noah, and with the Nets up 3, they decided to double on the perimeter. That left Joakim Noah open near the rim, and when he received a pass, Andray Blatche immediately stepped over to help. Noah dished off to unlikely hero Nazr Mohammed, who banked in a layup to cut the lead to one.

But the Nets once again went to their unlikely hero combination of Andray Blatche and Brook Lopez. The tandem was not as dominant as in past games, finishing only a +3 in 13 minutes, but it was Blatche’s contributions in crunch time that made the difference: a difficult bank shot with the shot clock winding down to put the Nets up four, then hitting three of four free throws to maintain the lead.

Deng left the stadium before tipoff, and according to Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago, was given a spinal tap for viral meningitis (came back negative):

But similarly, despite all the criticism of Brooklyn — that they don’t play with “heart,” or “passion,” or “they don’t kill enough quail together in the offseason,” or “they don’t yell like a bear that’s just been shot with a tranquilizer after every single play like Carlos Boozer,” they came out with a victory, and some strong points of emphasis. Gerald Wallace — airballed layup and free throw aside — looked like the Gerald Wallace the Nets expected to sign, hitting corner threes and the floor with equal vigor. C.J. Watson learned from his past mistakes of trying to dunk with a lead on a fastbreak, merely laying the ball in instead. Reggie Evans had 15 rebounds in 29 minutes, including 9 in a quarter’s time in the second half. Kris Humphries provided some of his most solid minutes of the season. Brook Lopez looked offensively dominant once again, Joe Johnson hardly looked the decoy, and Deron Williams proved that when he’s humming this team is near unstoppable offensively. And of course, Andray Blatche looked like the starting power forward this team has needed all along.

Out of 210 separate series when one team went up 3-1, that team ended up winning 202 times. The Nets have a chance to defeat history at home Saturday night. The only — or at least primary — reason to feel good about this win was because it was a win. But that’s what Brooklyn needed to stay alive one more day, and that’s what they got.

See you Saturday night.