Bulls vs. Nets: Chicago battles despite injuries, but can't win

USA TODAY Sports

Chicago fought as hard as they could without Luol Deng, without Kirk Hinrich, and with flu hampering Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson. Can they win Game 7? Probably not, but they probably shouldn't have had a chance Thursday night either.

Sitrep: the Chicago Bulls are down three points in Game 6. Their lineup features their third-string point guard, starting shooting guard, second string shooting guard, second-string center, and starting center manning the 1-5. The third-string point guard has spent time during the game vomiting on the sidelines. The starting center has been nagged all series by plantar fasciitis.

If you must know, Marco Belinelli's three went long, and Joakim Noah failed to win a jump ball. But that's just a result. What's important is that those Chicago Bulls described above lost to the Brooklyn Nets by three points, 95-92. This is unsurprising given the scenario, and it's completely unfair, but it's the hand they've been dealt.

After Game 5, I analyzed the Bulls' issues with depth. In it, I write about how the team will greatly benefit from Kirk Hinrich's presence. That's still true. Hinrich will still help a lot. But it's clear whatever low-level deity is in charge of maintaining the health of basketball players really doesn't like the Chicago Bulls.

Normally, I wouldn't write about the same thing after two straight games. But I wrote that post on Tuesday, when the Bulls' depth was downright dandy compared to what they had ready Thursday night. That post presumed that Luol Deng -- who has been virtually indispensible for the Bulls, leading the league in minutes per game each of the last two seasons -- was able to go. It presumed that nobody has the flu, which Deng, Nate Robinson, and Gibson had.

And it got worse from there. Gibson couldn't put forth his best effort and fouled out after 18 minutes. Carlos Boozer, with no suitable backup, fouled out with about a minute left in the game.

Here is a brief list of how the Bulls adapted:

- Marco Belinelli slid into the lineup to replace Luol Deng - a 6'9 small forward. Belinelli is a 6'5 shooting guard. Belinelli would be guarded by a much bigger player in Gerald Wallace, which worked to his favor, but also struggled guarding Wallace, who had 15 points.

- Belinelli and Jimmy Butler, the usual starting shooting guard, shared point duties in the first half. Despite reputations as wing scorers, Belinelli as a shooter with a knack for game-winners, but not much else, and Butler probably best known for his defensive capabilities, they were tasked with creating. (They average a combined 3.4 assists per game.) They performed admirably, accumulating 11 assists in the first half, with Belinelli finishing the night with 22 points, Butler with 17. Tom Thibodeau praised Belinelli in his post-game presser, available at NBA.com:

I thought he did a very good job. did a lot of good things out there. ran the pick-and-roll, shot the ball well, made plays, but not enough.

Butler would play all 48 minutes. Belinelli would play 46:23.

- In the second half, Robinson was once again the primary playmaker. Presumably, he didn't handle the role in the first to preserve his strength. In between vomits, he played 41 minutes. When matched up with Deron Williams defensively, he was abused, notably allowing a four-point play in the first-half, so the team tried to hide him on off guards as much as possible.

- Marquis Teague, a rookie who played sparingly all season long, played in the first half, and hit a layup. He played in the fourth quarter, and missed a three.

- Rip Hamilton, whose only playoff action after starting when healthy all season had been seven minutes in a Game 1 blowout, took the court for about three minutes in the first half, managing to miss two shots in that time. I suppose that's why he hasn't played.

- Nazr Mohammed, who had played nicely in earlier games when Joakim Noah had a minutes cap, came off the bench for about a minute in the first half, and again when Boozer and Gibson fouled out. He hit an uncontested layup.

- Daequan Cook did not play. Either he has smallpox, or is the worst basketball player of our generation.

The Bulls' starters, some of whom are actually the Bulls' backups, played roughly 42 minutes apiece. A few guys who should not be playing meaningful playoff minutes came into the game, didn't contribute much, and left after allowing the starters a minute to huff heavily on the sidelines.

And in that scenario, they lost by three points, after having the opportunity to tie the game in the final few possessions.

The premise of that last post I wrote was how screwed the Bulls were with their depth issues. I'm not changing my tone. The Bulls are positively screwed, screwed by fate with injuries, and screwed on the basketball court, where they're playing a completely healthy team with multiple All-Stars in the starting lineup. The fact that they displayed grit and hustle and managed to lose only by three on an evening the Nets played mediocre offensively and missed two-thirds of their free throws does not make them any less screwed.

If they continue to be an injury-ridden, flu-bitten crew of second-stringers, they will be highly unlikely to even compete Saturday when the series shifts to Brooklyn. The floor is spread with mismatches.

But they were highly unlikely to compete Thursday night as well, and look how that turned out.

Here's some quotes from various pressers: Thibodeau wouldn't give his team excuses, just repeating "we had enough" when asked about his team's lack of depth.

We've been shorthanded most of the year, so guys have been called upon all year to get the job done. I feel we're more than capable, but tonight's game was very winnable. we need one great game, and that's all we're thinking about.

On Nate Robinson, who he says has been sick for a while:

That's part of it. In the NBA, over the course of a season, guys get sick, they play through illness, thought Nate still functioned well. Nate's been sick for a while, but he battled.

On Kirk Hinrich's health:

I think he made good strides today, so we're hopeful, but there's no guarantee about whether it will be better tomorrow and the next day, but if he's not, we have enough..

P.J. Carlesimo, on the game:

It was kind of a bloodbath game and we came out on top. We put ourselves in position now that we can take a deep breath. We have one more game to advance. I keep forgetting what TNT's logo is, but that's what it's been...We have a lot of heart, no question about that. We're a resilient team, so are they. Playing shorthanded tonight and we know how well they competed, and how well they played.

On the Bulls' lack of depth, specifically Hinrich:

I think it effects it dramatically, because he's one of their best players. not just that he's one of their best defenders, but he's one of their best players, he makes plays, he's got a lot of the heart, he's a team captain, he's a catalyst. But other guys have stepped up in his place and played very well. Of course it makes a difference, but its not like the guys who have stepped up have played terribly. if he had played, those guys might not have gotten minutes.

Joe Johnson, on the nature of the game:

More than anything it was about who wanted it badder. We knew what they were going to run, they knew what we were going to run.

On the Bulls' injuries:

Injuries are part of the game. It happens. We've got some guys beat up as well. But you've got to be able to play through and suck it up for the sake of the team. You've got to play hard no matter who's out there for those guys. They're still NBA players, they're still going to play.

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