Strong performances by multiple Brooklyn big men kept them alive, as the Nets won an elimination game at home, 110-91, to force Game 6 in their best-of-seven series with the Chicago Bulls. The game was close before getting out of hand in the final few minutes. Chicago now leads the series, 3-2.
Brook Lopez was the early leader for the Nets, befuddling both Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed when they were matched up on him. He finished with 28 points and 10 boards, including 17 in the first half. Reggie Evans was huge on the glass, bringing in 12 boards in just 23 minutes of game time, part of a 43-32 rebounding advantage for the Nets. When the game was on the line, with Chicago cutting a double-digit lead to just one point on multiple occasions, Andray Blatche, of all people, stepped up. His quirky offensive game was on full display, as he made some nice plays going towards the hoop and finished consistently to score 10 points in the final period of play, part of his 13 on the game.
A big question was how the Bulls would respond to the absence of Kirk Hinrich, out for the game with a bruised thigh. They tried playing Nate Robinson on Deron Williams, with mixed results.The 5'9-ish point guard, who worked late miracles in a 34-point performance off the bench in Saturday's Game 4, played well in some aspects, hitting some ridiculous shots and finding his teammates for eight assists, not one of his strengths. But the minutes were too much: his only respite came in a two-minute breather by rookie Marquis Teague, who Tom Thibodeau apparently does not trust enough to play important minutes even with both Hinrich and Derrick Rose out.
And Robinson got absolutely worked by Williams, who was able to get past the diminutive guard with ease while also drilling jumpers if Robinson sagged off. But Robinson shouldn't be singled out, as Williams also got cooking when Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng were on him. The Nets' star finished with 23 points and 11 assists.
The two squads battled early, but for every advantage the Bulls seemed to get, the Nets had an answer. The Nets quickly jumped out to a 17-10 lead, but when the Bulls ran off a 7-0 stretch, the Nets scored seven in a row of their own. When the Bulls eventually jumped back to take the lead, the Nets had a run too, eventually scoring 10 of the final 14 points in the period to enter halftime up 52-44.
The early star was Lopez, who had 17 points in the first quarter, showing the full extent of his refined game: long jumpers, surprisingly quick post moves and a few big dunks.
In the third quarter, Williams tried to put the Bulls away, hitting a pair of threes as part of a 12-point third quarter, cooking against whoever the Bulls put on him. But it didn't faze the Bulls, who actually hacked into the lead thanks to scoring from a bunch of sources. Carlos Boozer had two jumpers early, and Butler scored seven straight Bulls points by himself. A Deng fadeaway at the end of the period cut the lead to four.
The Bulls' fourth-quarter luck seemed to be riding again. Butler accidentally banked in a three, Robinson hit a runner that wedged off the boot of the rim and trickled in, Deng threw up a fadeaway with the shot clock about to expire that somehow found paydirt, and Marco Bellinelli hit some big shots. At three different points, the Bulls were only down by one.
Brooklyn's answer? Blatche, who scored six straight Nets points and 10 of the team's first 14 points in the fourth quarter. The much maligned big man, who was told by the Washington Wizards to leave the team in the middle of the season last year, displayed his weird, but sometimes highly-effective offensive game, catching the ball about 20 feet from the basket and hitting surprised opposing defenders with nifty dribbles to get closer to the hole and finish. He'd hit three shots in the lane off of drives and draw a pair of fouls, one flagrant, giving his team a five-point lead.
A Gerald Wallace three off an inbounds pass, followed by a steal and transition dunk, would push the lead to 12 points with two minutes left, and unlike Saturday, there was no miracle comeback for the Bulls. The Nets would outscore the Bulls 33-18 in the final period of play for the win.