What Brooklyn Nets Fans Should Watch for in Game 7 Versus Chicago Bulls
As the series has progressed, several key storylines have emerged that will come to a climax in the final showdown on Saturday night.
What at first looked like a first-round cakewalk for the Bulls, has transformed into a brutal war of attrition.
Only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. Brooklyn will look to add to that short list when it hosts Chicago at the Barclays Center.
The Nets were able to force a Game 7 by narrowly defeating a depleted Bulls squad 95-92 at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday night.
The Nets have played just one Game 7 in franchise history, a loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 Eastern Conference semifinals and that was when they were residents of New Jersey.
After falling behind 3-1 in the series, Brooklyn has been playing with its back against the wall.
Now, the series shifts back to Brooklyn, where the Nets will hope to write a new narrative.
The Injury-Plagued and Flu-Ridden Chicago Bulls
A big question entering Game 7 is who will be on the floor for the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls’ roster has been decimated by a slew of injuries.
It started last on April 28, 2012, when superstar point guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL. Rose still hasn’t returned from the injury, and he certainly won’t play on Saturday night.
Center Joakim Noah has been playing through a plantar fasciitis injury that’s plagued him throughout the 2012-13 season. Noah’s injured foot has forced coach Tom Thibodeau to limit the big man’s minutes in the series.
Then, in Game 5, point guard Kirk Hinrich suffered a deep thigh bruise that could keep him out for the remainder of the postseason.
Making matters even worse for the Bulls, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson were hit with a flu virus prior to Game 6. Robinson spent part of Game 6 puking into a trashcan, while Deng was hospitalized twice. Deng is listed as doubtful for Game 7.
Tom Thibodeau was basically forced to use a six-man rotation in Game 6. Expect more of the same on Saturday, and look for Robinson and second-year swingman Jimmy Butler to log big minutes with Hinrich and Deng out of the lineup.
How Will Chicago Defend Deron Williams?
Kirk Hinrich’s absence since Game 4 has been a blessing and a curse for the Bulls. On one hand, it means more playing time for Nate Robinson, who has tortured the Nets’ defense throughout the series.
Robinson is too quick for Williams on the perimeter, and has been able to get open looks and drive through the paint with ease.
One the other hand, Robinson isn’t able to stop D-Will from getting to the basket. Williams, who shot just 13-for-39 against Hinrich through four games, has had more room to operate against Robinson.
With Hinrich sidelined for Game 5, Williams shredded Chicago’s defense, recording 23 points and 10 assists in a 110-91 blowout win.
In Game 5, D-Will scored 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting against Robinson, then shot 0-for-3 after Thibodeau decided to defend him with Jimmy Butler.
When Butler guarded Williams in the first half of Game 6, he held him to 0-for-2 shooting and three assists. When Robinson matched up with D-Will, the Nets’ superstar shot 4-for-6 and dished out four assists.
Look for Thibodeau to use the 6’ 7” Butler on Williams more in Game 7.
The Battle in the Paint
The Nets won Games 1 and 5 by dominating the Bulls inside.
In Game 1, Brooklyn outscored Chicago 56-36 in the paint. Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche combined for 33 points, and the Nets cruised 106-89.
In Game 5, Brooklyn held a 54-42 advantage in the paint. Lopez scored a playoff career-high 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 110-91 win. According to ESPN stats and Information, the Nets scored 24 second-chance points in the game. It marked the most second-chance points the Bulls’ allowed all season.
Expect the Nets to get the ball to Lopez inside early and often in Game 7.
When the Nets win the battle in the paint, they beat the Bulls.
The Blatche-Lopez Duo
Prior to Game 6, in the 36 minutes that Andray Blatche and Brook Lopez had played together in the series, Brooklyn outscored Chicago 91-53 (via ESPN Stats and Information).
On Thursday night in Game 6, P.J. Carlesimo continued to use Blatche and Lopez in tandem. The two giants combined for 41 points and 15 rebounds.
When Blatche and Lopez are both on the floor, the Nets have a significant size advantage over the Bulls. Carlos Boozer (6’ 9”) or Taj Gibson (6’ 9”), are forced to match up with the 6’ 11” Blatche. Chicago must also respect Blatche’s versatile offensive skill set and cannot afford to double-team Lopez in the post.
The Blatche-Lopez duo is a very poor-man's version of the Pau Gasol-Andrew Bynum combination that the Los Angeles Lakers used to win back-to-back championships in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Both Nets big men are able to stretch the defense and see above everybody else on the floor.
Pushing the Pace
Look for the Nets to push the pace in Game 7.
The longer the series has gone on, the more it’s worked in Brooklyn’s favor. The series has become a war of attrition, and Chicago has been pushed to the brink.
The Bulls are depleted, and Tom Thibodeau will once again be forced to use a six or seven-man rotation.
The Nets outscored the Bulls by a combined 49-20 on fast-break points during their three wins in the series.
The Nets have been trying to push the tempo throughout the series, and that won’t change on Saturday night.
Expect Deron Williams to quicken the pace of the game in an attempt to run the Bulls into the ground.
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