“It was no contest from the early going.”
The quote, from ESPN play-by play announcer Dave Pasch with a minute to go in the fourth quarter, summed up the Brooklyn Nets’ 106-89 blowout of the Chicago Bulls, in the first NBA playoff game in Brooklyn history. From Jerry Stackhouse singing — nay, nailing — the national anthem to the final buzzer, the fourth-seeded Nets dominated the fifth-seeded Chicago to go up 1-0 in the first round of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs.
After Brook Lopez put in a layup for the first points in Brooklyn Nets playoff history, Luol Deng answered back with a long jumper to tie it at two with 10:40 remaining in the first quarter. It was the last time the game was tied, and the Bulls would never lead.
The Nets brought their defensive A-game in the first half, holding the Bulls to a meager 35 points. Carlos Boozer, who scorched the Nets for 29 points the last time the Bulls played in Brooklyn on April 4, put in 12 first half points, mostly on those fadeaway midrange jumpers that killed Brooklyn in April, but not much else was going for Chicago. Boozer would finish with a game-high 25 points and a team-high 8 rebounds.
Best defensive effort went hands down to Gerald Wallace, who held Bulls leading scorer Luol Deng to two points in the first half, and six points total on 3-11 shooting. Crash also had a nasty block of Jimmy Butler with about four minutes to go in the second quarter. Boozer, from the left wing, found a streaking Butler down the lane; Butler, forced to go to his right by a challenging Brook Lopez, had his dunk attempt ripped from his arm by a two-handed block by Wallace.
A rejuvenated Crash also did work on the offensive end, shaking off the mortal coil of the regular season, hitting his first five shots and finishing with 14 points on 5-7 shooting. It was the most points Crash has had in a game since his 15-point effort in a March 23rd loss to the Clippers, and the first time he shot over .700 from the field since a 3-4 outing in a 93-89 victory against the Bulls February 1st — the only win the Nets had against the Bulls in four regular season match-ups.
“He was arguably one of our two or three best players tonight,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said after the game. “Gerald Wallace is a warrior.”
Six Nets scored in double digits. In the first quarter, Deron Williams had nine points and Brook Lopez had 13 points, combining for 22 of the Nets’ 25 points in the quarter. D-Will would finish with 22 points and seven assists to lead the Nets, while Lopez ended the game with 21 points and a team-high three blocks.
The Nets spread the offensive love around in the second quarter, with seven players scoring 35 points on red-hot 16-20 shooting. Still, the signature offensive moment from the quarter came from Williams and Lopez. Less than a minute before Crash’s block, D-Will and his platelet-rich plasma ankles performed a series of beautiful crossovers from the left wing on Bulls shooting guard Marco Belinelli. After then driving to the rim from the angle, D-Will drew Bulls center Nazr Mohammed off his feet, leaving Lopez wide open in the lane. Williams made a no-look shuffle pass to Brook, who slammed home a one-handed, uncontested “man’s jam.”
Bulls center Joakim Noah, who was born in New York City, made the start despite significant pain in his left foot due to plantar fasciitis. Noah was ineffective, playing only 13 minutes and scoring only six points on 2-6 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds. The absence of Noah made it easier for the Nets big men to dominate inside, as Nets backup center Andray Blatche supplemented Brook’s 21 points with 12 of his own on 6-11 shooting. The seven-foot duo even saw a few minutes of twin tower action against a depleted Bulls frontline in the third quarter.
The Nets entered the second half with a 60-35 lead. The Bulls never cut the deficit below 17, and that only occurred in the final minute.
The Nets had fun while controlling the game. With four minutes to go in the third, Reggie Evans took a Crash pass from the top of the three-point circle and drove down the lane. When he reached the bottom of the key, Reginald Jamaal floated a perfect alley to an uncontested alley-oop for Andray Blatche.
After the game, Bulls forward Taj Gibson said, “They were making a lot of easy pocket passes to the lane and we weren’t there a lot of the times.” The weakened Bulls interior defense led to a 56-36 points in the paint advantage for the Nets.
The best play of the night came when the game had already been all but decided, with the Nets leading 87-62 in the final minute of the third. On the defensive end, D-Will viciously ripped the ball from Deng’s hands in a spinning motion at the top of the key and proceeded to streak down the center of the court. When Williams got to the hoop, he threw home a thunderous double-pump reverse dunk.
The cathartic slam felt like an “Eff You!” to all the nay-sayers that called him overrated, or a coach killer, or questioned his work ethic this season. To the put the dunk in context, the Nets franchise point guard hobbled by injuries almost all year, put only two dunks home this season, and those were on pedestrian one-handers late in the season.
Deron had a lighter take on the dunk. “It just happened. I just was trying to show the guys in the NBA that I might be able to compete in the dunk contest next year.”
Nate Robinson, whom Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo accurately called the “wildcard” in the series, scored 17 points in 20 minutes off the bench on 8-12 shooting. 12 of those points came in the fourth quarter, during garbage time.
The capacity crowd of 17,732 was amped up throughout for the first postseason game in Brooklyn since the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in game seven of the World Series at Ebbets Field on Oct. 10, 1956. The Nets wore their black road jerseys, and black t-shirts were given out to fans to complete the “Brooklyn Blackout” aesthetic for the game, which Carlesimo called “fantastic.” “Brooookk-lynnnnn” chants rang throughout Barclays before the opening tip and chants of “MVP” for Deron Williams were audible on TV when D-Will was at the free throw line in the third quarter.
Thibodeau’s Bulls, known for their defensive intensity, held the Nets to 87.5 points per game in four regular season match-ups this season. The third year head coach panned his team’s defensive performance across the board. “It was from A to Z. Defensive transition, middle penetration, poor paint protection, poor help, poor on the ball technique and lack of a multiple effort mentality. You name it.”
On the other side, Carlesimo, who earned his first playoff win as a head coach since 1997 with the Blazers, praised his team. “We played extremely well tonight. We were able to defend, compete and rebound very well. We were also able to push and share the ball all night.”
But both bench bosses know it was just one game. While Carlesimo was pleased with his team overall, he wasn’t entirely happy with the 54 points they surrendered in the second half. “We weren’t able to get any stops like were able to get in the first half. We cannot continue to trade baskets on Monday, we need stops in order to win.”
For Thibodeau, he is looking to hit the reset button and have his team re-focused for game two in Brooklyn on Monday. “It wasn’t any one particular player or one particular thing, it was an all around thing. My job is to have them ready, to have the intensity right and I have to get that corrected.”
C.J. Watson scored 14 points to anchor the bench mob with Blatche. Stackhouse’s rendition of the national anthem went better than his play, as the 19 year NBA vet had zero points and two airballs in 13 minutes of play. Mirza Teletovic, MarShon Brooks and Tyshawn Taylor all saw a minute of playing time to end the game.