Missing multiple key guys, and with others playing through injury and illness, the Chicago Bulls took Game 7 on the road, sending the Brooklyn Nets home for the summer.
The Bulls used a dominant first half to gain enough of an advantage to outlast the Nets, 99-93.
From halftime on, Chicago went into survival mode, hitting shots when needed and returning punches and runs all night. Joakim Noah was the high man for the Bulls, going for 24 points and 14 rebounds. Seven of those boards were offensive, and he added six blocked shots.
The Nets just never seemed to feel the pressure of the moment. They failed to respond again and again, with multiple players turning in disappointing performances.
Chief among them was Joe Johnson. The highly paid shooting guard went just 2-of-14 for six points. He didn't come through the way Brooklyn hoped when it traded for him in the offseason.
Deron Williams finally felt desperate, taking and making a big three inside 30 seconds. Despite scoring 24 points on the night, he never took control down the stretch like a superstar needs to. Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez got things going late, but every basket they managed was simply matched by Noah and the Bulls.
Marco Belinelli registered 24 points, including the final six of the game for the Bulls. Carlos Boozer put in 17 as well.
The Bulls started dominating things in the second quarter. They outscored Brooklyn by 13 and took a 61-44 lead into the half.
Bulls lead in rebs 21-13; 2nd chance pts 14-2; O-rebs 9-4 & points in paint 32-24. Bulls shooting 55.3 pct & won 2ndQ 32-19.— Mike McGraw (@McGrawDHBulls) May 5, 2013
Jimmy Butler played the full 48 minutes, spending most of his time shadowing Deron Williams.
Jimmy Butler finna get paaaaaiiiiiiid in 2014.— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) May 5, 2013
The Nets immediately put together a 16-6 run to cut the deficit to seven at the 7:37 mark of the third. Gerald Wallace netted back-to-back threes in the process.
Also big difference is Gerald Wallace is hitting everything.— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) May 5, 2013
Wallace put in 11 in the third quarter, helping the Nets get to within seven by the start of the fourth quarter. Brooklyn went to Kris Humphries late, but he gave up several easy looks to Carlos Boozer. Whatever offense he could've given them had to be sacrificed with Reggie Evans or a small-ball unit on the floor.
For as good as Humphries has played for the Nets the last couple games, killed them in the last few minutes.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 5, 2013
The backcourt duo of Nate Robinson and Belinelli, who are quickly becoming beloved, hit a pair of baskets midway through the fourth to push Chicago's lead back to 10.
Marco Belinelli with a couple of gigantic shots. Bulls getting contributions from everywhere.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) May 5, 2013
Brook Lopez crossed the 20-point barrier with a put-back that brought the Nets to within five with 1:16 to go.
Thibodeau on Belinelli: "He plays to win and his defense has come a long way from the beginning of the season." #NETSvBULLS— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) May 5, 2013
Unfortunately for the home team, Belinelli was up to the task of icing the game with free throws down the stretch.
It was a disappointing end to a promising season from the new-look Nets, as Chicago advances and will take on the Miami Heat in the second round.