This one wasn't pretty, but then again, it's not a Chicago Bulls win if it's not ugly.
Chicago took Game 3 at home over the Brooklyn Nets 79-76, in what was one of the most difficult playoff games you'll watch all spring. That is, unless you're a fan of watching the Nets miss shot after shot after shot.
The Bulls played exceptional defense through three quarters allowing just 52 total points before relinquishing 24 in the fourth. They countered those 24 points with just 14 of their own.
In the waning minutes of the final period, this one had "complete collapse" written all over it for Chicago. Brooklyn pulled within two points with less than five seconds remaining, and had a chance to tie after Joakim Noah went just 1-of-2 from the free-throw line.
Fortunately for the Bulls, Brooklyn's C.J. Watson missed a game-tying three and the victory was theirs.
Chicago now leads the series 2-1, and the Nets are left to wonder just how much farther their offense can fall.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
Had Deron Williams' teammates knocked down more of their wide-open treys (emphasis on "wide-open"), he would have had a more impressive line.
Once again, the Bulls cut off Williams' dribble penetration. When he did get near the rim, they converged on him further, forcing him to thread the needle through traffic—sometimes to no avail (two turnovers)—to someone on the wing.
He finished with 18 points on 5-of-14 shooting and four assists. Although those numbers don't scream greatness, I wouldn't say Williams had a bad game. He was aggressive, but when you're only other consistent offensive weapon is Brook Lopez, Chicago's defense is free to suffocate you.
Williams can't do everything. He needs a reliable supporting cast so that he doesn't have to go one-on-three. His supporting cast just wasn't reliable here.
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago
Kirk Hinrich was very Deron Williams in this one...in the first half
The Nets allowed him to have his way on pick-and-rolls and he traipsed his way toward the rim unimpeded far too often. After a strong first half, he wound up finishing with 12 points 5-of-12 shooting from the floor, and made nice adjustments at the basket when Brooklyn actually put a body on him.
Chicago's point man was sloppy with the ball at times (two turnovers), but he more than made up for it on defense. He did a nice job leading Williams into some traps and managed to force two steals.
Derrick Rose is still sorely missed, but it's understated performances like these that make you appreciate Hinrich's two-way savvy.
Overall Grade: B-
Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
Plantar Fasciitis couldn't keep Joe Johnson from playing in Game 3, but it may as well have.
I'm actually kidding, because as much as he left to be desired, Brooklyn's offense would have been toast without him. And that's saying something.
Johnson shot just 6-of-14 from the floor for 15 points.
It was clear from the get go that Johnson wasn't going to be his normal self. I thought he did a nice job persevering through such a fickle injury (41 minutes), yet you could tell he was favoring his right foot when operating off the dribble.
Not much of Johnson's time on offense was spent going off the dribble, though. He could mostly be found drifting off to the corner and remaining idle. Even when anti-iso Avery Johnson was coaching the Nets, I never saw Joe so stationary. He was just as immobile on defense, gingerly floating around and leaving an unhealthy amount of space between him and his man (namely Jimmy Butler).
I won't go as far to say he shouldn't have played, but his performance makes you wonder if P.J. Carlesimo shouldn't have went to Marshon Brooks earlier to try and find at least some of the offense he was looking for in Johnson in the first half.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
My affinity for Butler continues, but his success on offense does not.
The 23-year-old struggled immensely on offense. He finished with four points on just 1-of-5 shooting in what was a night of missed opportunity.
Butler spent most of the night being defended by Johnson, who wasn't moving well at all. Had he moved off the ball more, he should have been able to shed Joe-Joe and make more of an impact on the offensive end.
While his offense was regrettable, he defense was anything but. He seemed to know Johnson wasn't going to be moving much so he didn't hesitate to help off him and crowd the paint. He easily provided the best help defense of anyone in the game.
I know what you're thinking: If he knew how to exploit Johnson on defense, why didn't he use it to his advantage on offense?
Beats me. His grade would be significantly higher if he did.
Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets
Gerald Wallace did not have a good game.
He continues to struggle offensively (like the rest of the Nets) and finished with five points on 2-of-8 shooting (1-of-5 from three). Chicago was obviously playing off him when it had the opportunity to double Brook Lopez or Deron Williams, and he did nothing to make the Bulls second-guess themselves.
His defense was solid (as per usual), but it wasn't great. He was victimized by screens more than we're used to seeing and forced to go under instead of fight through them.
When the Bulls weren't able to set screens to create space, Wallace played some top-notch on-ball defense. More than a decade into his career, he's still forcing opponents to pick up their dribble mid drive and either take a low-percentage shot, or get rid of the ball.
The problem? He's become so much of a non-factor on offense that the Nets are forced to essentially play three-on-five when him and Reggie Evans are on the floor. Brooklyn needs him to hit more of his open threes, not unlike he did to end the first half.
Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls needed offense (they always do), so Luol Deng gave them offense.
He didn't shoot especially well from the floor (9-of-23), but that he kept shooting at all is what's important. Just as important as his 21 points.
Deng was a nightmare for Wallace to guard. As alluded to previously, Crash is able to coerce opposing wings to pick up their dribble mid drive, usually goading them into a long two. Well, Deng lives off long twos, and premature pull-ups are like his signature move.
Chicago milked the hell of Deng in the second half, but he didn't force the action (much). He kept the ball moving and passed out of double-teams well.
I don't have to tell you he excelled defensively, because you already know. When he wasn't suffocating the ball-handler, he was closing out on otherwise open jump shots. He chipped in 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals as well.
This was one of those games that made all of Chicago exhale and say, "Damn, thank God he's on our team."
Reggie Evans, Brooklyn Nets
Reggie Evans confuses me.
He's so good on the glass (12 rebounds) that you can't not play him, but he makes me shed tears on offense. Evans missed his only two shots and aided in Chicago's case to clog the paint.
All he does is take up space in the paint (or near it) during half-court sets. He serves as a deterrent for teammate Deron Williams when he wants to attack the rim.
As I find myself saying every time, he's a necessary evil. He's aggressive underneath the basket and he and Brook Lopez have a nice rapport on defense. Lopez is Brooklyn's primary shot-blocker, and Evans knows to rotate off his man to Lopez's when the latter attempts to hinder dribble drives.
Evans did what he needed to do, and the Nets can't ask for anything more. Seriously, they can't. He can't do any more.
Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
In Game 1, Carlos Boozer was a little more Utah Jazz Carlos Boozer (25 points). In Game 2, he was a little more Cleveland Cavaliers Carlos Boozer (13 points). In this one, he was back to his Utah-esque tricks (22 points on 9-of-15 shooting).
This series really makes you appreciate what he can do on offense. He has a tendency to settle for jumpers or make shots harder than they need to be (unnecessary fadeaways), but he shoots in such a way that's near impossible to contest.
Boozer tends to lean back on his shots. Not so much that all of them are fadeaways (thankfully), but just enough to impede any shot-blockers
The ever expensive forward also posted 16 rebounds and three assists, and he wasn't a liability on defense until the fourth quarter. It was then that the began to blow assignments and get lost off pick-and-rolls.
Other than that, Boozer was Tony the Tigerish—he was grrrreat.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
Brook Lopez plays defense?
Lopez was sensational on the defensive end. It wasn't just his seven blocks either. It was everything. His timing was incredible (again, seven blocks) and he was the only member of his team who defended the pick-and-roll well.
Chicago also has this tendency to throw Joakim Noah on the perimeter, in an attempt to clear the paint for Luol Deng or Nate Robinson or somebody else. Most opposing centers tend to follow him. Why? I don't know. He's not known as an inside out threat. He's barely an inside threat.
Lopez didn't fall for it, and as you can tell, I appreciated it. So did the Nets. About as much as they appreciated his offense. He was scoring before the Nets figured out that offense was actually important here (though the score says otherwise).
Brooklyn's tower led the team in scoring, with 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He began to force the action toward the end of the first half, but the way the Nets were shooting, I couldn't blame him.
On a night where the Nets appeared lost for most of the game, Lopez was simply phenomenal.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah played through his sore foot (27 minutes) en route to an ugly yet inspiring performance.
He missed all seven of his shots and a key free throw down the stretch, but he remained active on the defensive end, blocking two shots.
The injured big man also managed to haul in eight rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end. He dished out two assists as well.
You can't say much about Noah here except that it appeared he was running on sheer will. He could be seen wincing when he ran, but he kept running. And he wasn't afraid to hit the floor either.
As ugly as some of his columns read in the box score, he had a helping hand in this victory. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be.
Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets
You know the Nets' offense was struggling to, well, think when they allowed Andray Blatche to dribble the ball up the floor while the Bulls were in the midst of a 28-4 run.
Blatche finished with seven points on 3-of-9 shooting, struggling to operate within the flow (or lack thereof) of Brooklyn's offense. Most of his sets saw him take his defender off the dribble more than 15 feet from the basket, and that's not what you want him doing. Or where you want him standing.
He struggled to defend on pick-and-roll on the other end of the floor (though who on the Nets didn't?) and wasn't getting back in time to help stop Chicago's dribble penetration. I'm also convinced he's decided he doesn't care about grabbing rebounds (he had three, two of which just fell into his lap).
The Nets often look to Blatche to provide that often unforeseen spark off the bench. It's game like these that make you wonder if they're looking in the wrong place.
Overall Grade: C-
Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls
For the record, I was almost tempted to go with Nazr Mohammed or Taj Gibson because it took so long for Tom Thibodeau to get Nate Robinson in the game in the first and second halves. But I knew better.
Robinson was his usual electric, sometimes reckless self when on the floor. Nearly all of his shots looked like he should have holstered his trigger finger, but he converted on 2-of-3 for seven points.
I often find myself wondering why Thibs doesn't rely on Robinson more (though he does play big fourth quarter minutes). Almost every time, Robinson answers my question for me.
He can be stubborn on defense, providing unnecessary double-teams and giving up on plays in general. For all he does wrong, though, he's aggressive when pursuing long rebounds and if he feels like it, can get back in transition rather quickly.
I would have liked to see him run more pick-and-rolls or at least dribble less on offense, but hey, he was instant energy off the pine. Like a miniature Joakim Noah, if you will.
Keeping in theme with the grotesque motif this game produced for us, Brooklyn's bench was hideous.
Kris Humphries came in and was almost effective, scoring four points on 2-of-4 shooting, grabbing two rebounds and blocking a shot, but he wasn't reading rotations well on defense. His handle on offense appeared worse than usual as well. He was just rusty.
And he was also the highlight of the Nets' reserves.
Jerry Stackhouse is going to set a record for most air-balls in a playoff series and C.J. Watson is suddenly afraid to shoot. Not in the sense that he won't shoot, but that he hesitates before tossing up a brick.
Watson did pitch in three assists and three rebounds, but he missed a potential game-tying three badly. It was off. Like Jerry-Stackhouse-off.
Marshon Brooks didn't see the floor until the fourth quarter, and while he was just 1-of-3 from the field, I wish P.J. Carlesimo would have played him earlier. He could have helped bust the Nets out of the offensive rut they spent the entire game in.
Taj Gibson has basically fallen out of the playoff rotation. He logged just 12 minutes and I'm still unable to tell if it's because of his health or because he's out of sync on both ends.
Gibson did show two brief flashes of competency, throwing down a demonstrative dunk and blocking a shot. He was just 2-of-6 from the floor for four points, though, and wasn't battling under the basket on defense like he once did.
Marco Belinelli bordered on awful, going 1-of-3 from the field and seeing just 12 minutes of floor time. Each of his shots (even the one that went in) lacked arc.
Nazr Mohammed was the man. He came in and went 2-of-3 from the field for five points, dished out two assists and grabbed six rebounds in just 16 minutes of action. He did a better job boxing out Reggie Evans than either Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer did.
All things considering, Chicago received a respectable contribution from its bench. Far more respectable than Brooklyn did anyway.