In Game 3, the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls combined for 145 points in a defensive battle; neither team shot better than 40 percent as Chicago managed to grind out the win.
In Game 4, they combined for 276 points, with 222 coming in regulation. The Bulls needed three overtimes to decide it, but they seized a 3-1 series lead behind a legendary performance from Nate Robinson.
But that may have been a Pyrrhic victory. Kirk Hinrich played an hour of court time, piling up 18 points, 14 assists and three steals. He promptly missed the next contest and hobbled around Barclays Center in a walking boot on Monday.
The Nets won that game and outplayed Chicago in virtually every aspect, though that may have been a tacit choice by the Bulls to lay up and go for the green at home in Game 6.
Brooklyn's home win may have been just the thing Deron Williams needed to get going, and Brook Lopez had been whooping it up all series long.
Thursday's home tilt is effectively a must-win for Chicago, as Game 7s are extremely difficult to win on the road. Since 1947, home teams in Game 7 are 89-22 (per Basketball-Reference.com). The Bulls need to dodge those long odds and blow Brooklyn out of the Windy City.
Game 6 Time: Thursday, May 2, 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
Series Record: 3-2 Bulls
Game 6 Key Storyline: The Walking Wounded
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that Hinrich is expected to miss Game 6. Though he's out of the walking boot, he does not appear close to being in game shape. Hinrich didn't give much cause for optimism: "I’m still walking very gingerly. I haven’t tried to run or cut or jump or anything yet. I’m hoping it improves a lot."
Luol Deng and Taj Gibson also missed Wednesday's practice as they stayed home due to some sort of illness. Deng played 57 minutes on Saturday so it's not surprising that his immune system is run down, but Gibson can't use the same excuse.
Their absence from practice was likely more of a precaution to keep contagions away from the team, but they will be sorely need for Game 6. Chicago should bring a lot of hand sanitizer to the arena.
Brooklyn's Reggie Evans seems to have come down with an illness as well, according to the injury report.
Joakim Noah didn't look like himself either in Game 5 following their grueling win on Saturday. After turning in a sensational effort in Chicago's Game 2 road win, Noah has been hot and cold. In Games 3 and 5, he totaled just 12 points and finished with a combined rating of minus-36.
On the positive side, he's due for a strong game on Thursday based on his pattern.
For Brooklyn, Joe Johnson has been slowed by a sore foot, limiting his production. And with Gerald Wallace looking like a shadow of his former self, the Nets still may not have enough to overcome the ailing Bulls.
Series Star So Far
Carlos Boozer is posting 18.2 points on 57.7 percent shooting and 10.8 rebounds per game in the series.
That's fantastic, but Nate Robinson is scoring 17.8 points on 54.4 percent from the field in just 27 minutes per game. With the Bulls' underwhelming backcourt, Robinson's production played a crucial role in their 3-1 advantage.
While Tom Thibodeau hasn't given the 5'9" Robinson big minutes, the mercurial guard has been effective when called upon and probably saved Chicago's season by scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4.
With Hinrich sitting out for Game 5, Nate scored 20 and dished eight assists, albeit in a losing effort. Robinson must continue his surprising efficiency on offense if the Bulls want to avoid the dreaded Game 7 on the road.
Projected Starting Lineups
Brooklyn: Deron Williams, PG; Joe Johnson, SG; Gerald Wallace, SF; Reggie Evans, PF; Brook Lopez, C
Chicago: Kirk Hinrich, PG; Jimmy Butler, SG; Luol Deng, SF; Carlos Boozer, PF; Joakim Noah, C
Nets Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Andray Blatche (calf), questionable; Reggie Evans (illness), probable
Bulls Injury Report
Kirk Hinrich (calf), questionable; Luol Deng (illness), questionable; Taj Gibson (illness), questionable; Derrick Rose (knee), out
Nets Will Win If...
They score more than 90 points and grab more offensive boards than Chicago.
In Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, the Nets have one of the best 1-5 combos in the league. And it's been on full display in the playoffs. They're averaging over 44 points per game in the series, with Williams dishing eight assists and Lopez grabbing eight boards a night.
If they can lead the Nets to an efficient offensive night in Game 6, as opposed to their 76-point effort in Game 3, the series will be headed back to BK.
The problem is the trade-off between scoring and rebounding that P.J. Carlesimo makes by starting Reggie Evans.
Last time I checked, Evans can't score. He's the only Net to play a majority of the games in the series and average more rebounds than points. That's a testament to his ability on the boards and a condemnation of his offensive game.
Evans is averaging slightly over two field goals a game, putting him just ahead of Kris Humphries, who was last seen on the back of a milk carton.
But the Nets won the rebounding battle in both their victories, and in Game 5 they attempted 11 more field goals than Chicago thanks in part to snagging six more offensive boards. It's up to Carlesimo to balance Evans' minutes in the rotation with bench scorers like Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson.
Bulls Will Win If...
They flash the defense that won them Games 2 and 3.
The Bulls entered the Barclays Center locker room at halftime of Game 2 up by one point but behind in the series 1-0. Then they slashed and burned Brooklyn's offense in the third quarter, holding them to 11 points and just two field goals.
In Game 3, the Bulls held the Nets to 34.6 shooting from the field. But after the triple-OT barn burner, Chicago's defense failed to show up on Monday as no one in their 11-man rotation managed a positive court rating.
Back at the United Center, if their ferocious frontcourt wakes up (and Deng keeps chugging DayQuil), it'll be curtains for Brooklyn.
During the regular season, the Bulls posted a 24-17 record at the United Center, the second-worst mark among all 16 playoff teams.
But they looked dominant in Game 3 with their swarming defense, and the home crowd helped will them to victory in Game 4.
Perhaps if Joe Johnson was at 100 percent, Brooklyn would stand a chance of evening the series with a road win, but their play all year has been too inconsistent to put much faith in them.
Thibodeau won't allow his charges to squander this golden opportunity at home, and they'll ride the Booze Cruise into Round 2.
Prediction: Bulls 92, Nets 84
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