Praise was heaped upon Deron Williams for a stellar Game 1 performance that earned the Nets a win at home in their series against the Bulls. The point guard alternately dashed to the hoop and puppeteered passes to open Nets players, finishing with 22 points and seven assists. He looked, everybody said, like the All Star point guard the Nets needed to get out of round 1?
Game 2? Not so much. Williams went 1-for-9 from the floor, not hitting a field goal until the fourth quarter, and after looking strong in the first half with eight assists, he only had two in the second half, ending the game with eight points and ten assists. and his team would lose, seeing a one-point halftime deficit balloon to 14 before losing 90-82.
Surely, Williams deserves a lot of the credit for a tepid evening. He didn't finish around the hoop as he often does, and he clanged away all five of his attempts from downtown. He's the leader of the Nets, and they squandered
But some of the credit goes to the Bulls defense, who played exactly as Tom Thibodeau intended. After the first game, Mike Prada wrote about how well Williams read the Bulls' defense, with pictures showing the fail. In Game 2, it wasn't the same story. Kirk Hinrich was generally the front line of defense (although the Bulls switched up their looks), and he played phenomenally, doing a much better job of keeping the Illinois product in front of him.
But the star of the show was the Bulls' help that looked step-slow in Game 1, making a concerted effort to get the ball out of Williams' hands and have the rest of the team beat them. Often, the Bulls brought double teams. And if and when Williams approached the paint, there was a wall - their typical 2.9-seconds in, .1-seconds out look, and made sure that the smart play for Williams was a pass rather than a shot. Joakim Noah seemed much spryer on his injured foot, Luol Deng was long and present in his 42 minutes of floor time, Carlos Boozer wasn't as cynical as usual in his defense, and even Nazr Mohammed showed up to defend the rim in one of his best spurts since winning national titles in the 90's at Kentucky. The Nets responded by running a high pick-and-pop early that got Brook Lopez a slew of 20-footers, but that well dried up in the second half as the Bulls closed harder.
It was a defensive gameplan that both coaches and Joakim Noah noted in their postgame pressers. First, Tom Thibodeau:
Deron Williams is such a great player. He keeps constant pressure on you. The thing is, he's such a smart player, you can't give him a steady diet of anything. You try to give him some different looks. He plays to win, he makes the right play. He's going to hit the open man, if you don't have a multiple effort against him, he creates so many easy shots for his team. And they missed some shots they made the other night. sometimes it comes down to that. make or miss.
Any time you put two on the ball, Deron's so good in the pick-and-roll, it requires your entire team to react, and be tied together. He made some shots. You have to decide what you're willing to live with. That's the thing that makes it tough. Lopez has great touch for a big guy. Deron's a very unselfish player, made some clean passes out, , they got there, we got to close harder, but the nets are tough. they're a very well-balanced team, they play hard, they play together.
He added a few lines about how Joakim Noah, who played his best ball since plantar fasciitis caused him to miss 12 late season games, allows the Bulls to operate defensively, somewhat summarizing his strategy on the game overall and showing why Noah's health is so important to the team:
Timely baskets, hustle plays, size at the rim, I think you need those things. It's very difficult i think to play great defense when you downsize. Offensively, it helps, aeshetically it probably looks a lot better because you have another perimeter skilled guy on the floor, but defensively you sacrifice a lot. It's one of the unique things about taj and joakim. teams go small and you can stay big.
From P.J. Carlesimo, on the Bulls' strategy:
They did a good job. They made it harder for us to get the ball to (Williams). Too many times we got the ball away from the basket as opposed to inside the basket. A lot of the good things that happened in the first half were on pick-and-roll and (Lopez) was popping and getting the ball up top, D had a lot of assists, but our execution when they made an adjustment or they increased the defensive pressure - we didn't react as well as we need to.
I think he took it to the hole a number of times but they contested, he didn't get all the way to the rim as easily as he did two nights ago. Their interior d was contesting a lot better, they didn't let him turn the corner, that's why so many of his decisons were get the ball to Brook. They drew two people on him and he involved other people. We need a lot more offense from more people than we got tonight.
And Joakim Noah, on the defensive mindset:
It was definitely an emphasis. We didn't play very good defense in game 1. we just wanted to take away that pocket pass.