BY JOHN HOOD
At the beginning of this season, a Brooklyn Nets-Chicago Bulls playoff matchup would have a duel of elite point guards written all over it. But through five games of the Nets-Bulls first round matchup, no one could have expected that the talk of the series would still be the Bulls point guard play with Derrick Rose still sidelined with a torn ACL, as Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich have made their presence known through all five games.
Robinson single-handedly stole Game 4 with an offensive explosion that erased a 14-point lead with less than three minutes left in the game. As for Hinrich, he has been a pest on defense, hassling Deron Williams on nearly every possession.
But with Hinrich doubtful for tonight’s Game 6, is having Robinson out there playing defense on Williams all that bad for the Bulls?
For Williams it is pick your poison, as he has been on fire since the All-Star break both inside and outside the three-point arc.
Taking a look at the graph, Williams is actually getting to the rim and converting more often when Hinrich is on the floor. Meanwhile, he is only shooting 41 percent while Robinson is on the court within the paint. That is a 19 percent difference then when Robinson is off the court.
However, the opposite occurs from the three-point line. Williams is being held to just 31 percent shooting while Hinrich is on the floor — an 11 percent difference then when he is off the court.
Since he was shut down in Game 2, Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo has worked Williams off the ball more by running his defenders through screens. Hinrich has done a good job of slipping these screens and keeping Williams from getting a wide-open three. When Williams brings the ball up, Hinrich is picking him up at half-court, constantly bumping him and taking risks to try and force a turnover.
Hinrich is playing a tighter defense on Williams then Robinson is, allowing Williams to be more successful in getting to the rim. Robinson, who is staying back more, is focused on taking away the lane penetration and cutting off possible passing lanes.
The Nets should hope Kirk Hinrich is unable to play at all for the rest of the playoff series because even though Hinrich and Robinson share minutes at the point guard position, they are even more dangerous when playing together.
The Bulls have three main rotations through five games. The five-men rotations that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is using most often are: Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Hinrich; Boozer, Noah, Deng, Butler and Robinson; and Boozer, Noah, Deng, Robinson and Hinrich.
Using the first lineup, the Bulls lack an offensive punch, and are approximately a -10 net rating. For the second lineup, the Bulls increase their offensive rating by nearly 16 points, but the defensive rating also skyrockets to 123.7. The Bulls’ best five-man lineup is when both Robinson and Hinrich are on the floor. The Bulls differential in offensive and defensive rating is +50.4, which is far better then any lineup without the two point guards.
The Nets need to be prepared should Hinrich come back for Game 6, or if the Nets can push the series to seven games.
Brook Lopez has been the only consistent player this series for the Nets averaging 23 points and eight rebounds. Joe Johnson admitted early yesterday that his plantar fasciitis is acting up and he is mostly a decoy out on the floor.
That means Williams needs to bring it.
Throughout this series, the Nets go only as far as Williams will take them.
There is a significant gap too hard to ignore in all of Williams’ advanced statistics in both wins and losses this season. Williams’ offensive rating, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage are through the roof in games the Nets have won this postseason. But in losses, Williams is struggling mightily as his offensive rating is nine points less than his defensive rating.
If the Nets expect to win this series and move on to face with the Miami Heat, it will come down to the point guard play. Just like everyone expected, it would.
Except this time it’s not Deron Williams versus Derrick Rose; it is Williams versus a 5’7″ offensive juggernaut and a savvy veteran point guard not afraid of a defensive challenge.