Nate Robinson propels Bulls in Game 4, Nets blow it, more thoughts
Three thoughts from Chicago's 142-134 triple overtime win over the visiting Nets on Sunday to give the Bulls a 3-1 lead in their first-round series:
• The tiny giant. Nate Robinson, the Bulls' 5-foot-9 backup point guard, had scored five points in eight minutes when the Bulls turned to him to start the fourth. He gave them a phenomenal 29 points in the fourth quarter and ensuing overtimes -- not only leading them back from a 14-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation, but also extending the game at the end of the first OT with a wild runner off the glass he launched with one foot on the three-point line. That shot epitomized Robinson at his hysterical best: He looked as if he wasted a chance to win the game outright before settling for a ridiculous attempt that gave Chicago a 121-119 lead with 2 seconds left. (Joe Johnson wound up forcing a second OT with a buzzer-beating jumper of his own.)
"I tease my teammates a lot. I always think I'm on fire, kind of like the old school game NBA Jam -- if you make a couple, the rim's on fire. When you shoot the ball, the ball's on fire. I feel like that at times," Robinson said, who instantly corrected himself. "All the time."
For much of his career Robinson has been criticized for being too unreliable and more trouble than he's worth. But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau indicated Robinson has benefited by playing for two demanding coaches in himself and Doc Rivers in Boston. "I had a good understanding of who he is from my experience with him in Boston," Thibodeau said, who assisted Rivers with the Celtics. "You've got to take the whole package. The good outweighs the bad."
The best of Robinson resulted in the best game of the NBA season and the sixth triple-OT playoff game in league history. The Bulls have needed Robinson's offense in the absence of Derrick Rose, who watched from the bench as Robinson fearlessly attacked the rim and made shots many players wouldn't dare attempt.
"You've got to kind of lie to yourself and feel like you can't miss," Robinson said, who asked Thibodeau to not call plays for him down the stretch. "Just let it happen, because when you run plays for guys, the other team knows it's coming to you. You might as well be spontaneous."
Thibodeau is among the league's best coaches because of meticulous preparation. The Bulls are positioned to finish off Brooklyn because, in this case, he has learned to accommodate the league's least predictable scorer.
"I tease coach a lot because it seems like every shot I shoot, he's mad regardless," Robinson said. So how does Robinson respond? "Just keep shooting and hope you can make them."
• Nets blew it. A Robinson turnover presented C.J. Watson of the Nets with a breakaway dunk that would have given Brooklyn a 16-point lead with 3:16 left. Watson missed the dunk.
"I don't think it would be possible to overstate it," Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said of the importance of that missed opportunity. "Very unusually for (the Bulls), they were a little scrambled. It was not a good offensive possession: They didn't communicate to each other what they should have been in. They turned the ball over, we got a breakaway to get it to 16, Thibs might have to use another timeout. They're not going to go away -- it wasn't like they were going to roll up and clear the bench and the game was over. But I like our chances a lot." If Watson had completed the play, he meant.
"There was nobody even in the picture," Carlesimo said of the missed dunk. "So that was not good judgment on our part."
Deron Williams led the Nets with 32 points and 10 assists (with 7 turnovers) in 58 minutes, but he tired when the game mattered most while going 2-for-11 in the fourth quarter and OTs. The Nets received only 11 points from Joe Johnson in regulation before relying on him for another 11 in the OTs as he made several big shots to repeatedly keep them alive. The Nets missed 16 free throws and their 20 turnovers led to 28 points for Chicago. The Nets were outscored on second chances (17-10) and on the break (20-12). Their bench (thanks to Robinson) was outscored 57-24 by a Bulls roster that has been undermanned and dealing with injuries all season. The failure by backup big man Andray Blatche to block out on a Bulls free throw enabled Chicago to finish off the game in the third OT.
• Noah fights through. "He's feeling a little better," Thibodeau said. And it showed. Noah has been struggling with a severe case of plantar fasciitis, but he was able to give the Bulls 15 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 assists before fouling out in his 39th minute.
The Bulls received at least 15 points from each of their starters, but Noah was the difference maker. His ability to stay on the floor and provide a variety of plays will give Chicago confidence going into Game 5 in Brooklyn on Monday.
"He was in the practice facility late shooting," Thibodeau said (and it is not surprising the coach knew this since Thibodeau is known to be in the facility working late every night). "I haven't seen him in there for awhile. It was a good sign.
"He had a couple big time offensive rebounds, hustle plays. He has an uncanny knack of getting to the ball late. He's doing it on will. He hasn't practiced."
The Bulls' confidence is based on being the tougher and more cohesive team. But then, would we be giving them so much credit if not for Robinson?