CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls looked like they were ready to eliminate Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets and move on to the second round of the playoffs.
They’re still in position to do it. Things are just a little more interesting.
With a 3-2 lead, the Bulls will try again to wrap it up when the series shifts back to the United Center on Thursday.
The Nets seemed all but out of it before a 110-91 victory at the Barclays Center on Monday night. Now, the Bulls appear to be reeling as they try to avoid a decisive seventh game at Brooklyn on Saturday.
Point guard Kirk Hinrich might miss his second straight game because of a bruised left calf, and Luol Deng and Taj Gibson were sick Wednesday and stayed home. Joakim Noah has battled plantar fasciitis in his right foot — the same issue dogging Joe Johnson, except it’s in his left foot.
The most pressing matter for Brooklyn is trying to find a way to win in Chicago, something it hasn’t done this season. The Nets dropped both regular season matchups there and lost Games 3 and 4.
“Number one, the Bulls. Number two, we just did a poor job of closing,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “The first game there we didn’t get a shot. We had the ball with whatever it was, a three-, four-point lead and we didn’t get a shot our last three possessions. And obviously Game Four, up 14 with less than three minutes to go would be a pretty good place to be you would think. So twice we did a very poor job of finishing. I don’t think there’s any magic to the building. I think it’s the guys the white uniforms and the fact that we’ve done a poor job closing out for sure.”
Now, they’re trying to hang on.
Only eight NBA teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit, and the odds that the Nets would add to that number seemed slim at best after Game 4.
“I think we’ve been confident throughout the whole series regardless of whether they were up 3-1,” Johnson said. “The series is not over man until the first team gets four wins so at this point we’ve still got a shot. We understand that we’ve got a big task ahead of us and that’s going to Chicago and getting a win.”
They blew a 14-point lead in the closing minutes of regulation and lost 142-134 in triple overtime, with Nate Robinson going off for Chicago down the stretch. He scored 34 points, the most by a Bulls reserve in a playoff game, and all but five came after the third quarter.
But without Hinrich on Monday, it was a different story.
Robinson started and was unable to provide a similar spark. He did score 20 points but had a tough time slowing Williams. The offense was a bit out of sync, too, and Hinrich could have helped in both areas.
The veteran guard did not practice Wednesday, and neither he nor coach Tom Thibodeau declared him out for Thursday. The way he was hobbling around, Hinrich hardly looked like a player who was about ready to suit up even though he said he has seen some improvement.
“I’m just going to try to play if I can,” he said. “That’s my goal. Whether I’ll be able to reach it or not …”
He’s still in pain and he needs to get the swelling down more before he can return to the court. If he’s not ready to go, it’s not clear how the Bulls will adjust.
They could simply try again with Robinson at the point and hope for a better result this time. Another possibility might be starting Marco Belinelli at the point, with Jimmy Butler guarding Williams, and bringing Robinson off the bench.
Thibodeau wasn’t tipping his hand.
The fact that Deng and Williams were sick only adds to the Bulls’ concerns, and then there’s the Derrick Rose saga. He hasn’t played since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in last year’s playoff opener against Philadelphia, and the outside criticism has mounted, with some fans and analysts questioning why he hasn’t returned even though the knee is structurally sound and saying he’s done the team a disservice by not announcing one way or another if he would be back this season.
“There is a big difference between the time of injury that he’s had and all these other injuries,” Thibodeau said. “And we certainly appreciate what all the other guys are doing, but Derrick has had a very serious injury. It requires time. He’s 24 years old. We’re not going to rush him back. When he’s completely comfortable, that’s when we want him out there. If that means we wait another game, if that means we wait until next year, so be it. We want him completely comfortable and we’re not going to make that mistake.”
Hinrich also defended Rose, saying, “You give a guy who has that type of character the benefit of the doubt. We know that he’s such a big part of this organization and this team that we trust he’s making the right decision for that and for himself.”
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