Apr 20, 2013, 11:43 PM EDT
Deron Williams made a pair of free throws as the Barclays Center fans chanted “M-V-P!” On the Bulls’ next possession, Williams stole the ball, sprinted down the court and – the same player who didn’t dunk until April – delivered a reverse slam.
More than we’ve realized, this is a different Deron Williams. Frankly, and perhaps more importantly at the moment, these are a different Chicago Bulls.
Williams is full of health of vigor. The Bulls – and, as a result, this series – are not.
Williams had 22 points and seven assists to lead the Nets to a resounding 106-89 Game 1 win over Chicago that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. Brooklyn led by more than 15 for the game’s final 28 minutes and by as many as 28 points.
In the last 15 years, teams that win Game 1 by at least 17 points have won 41 of 44 series. As long as Williams keeps playing like this, it’s difficult to envision the Bulls turning this series into the fourth exception.
Including tonight (and excluding the season finale, when he sat out the fourth quarter), Williams is averaging 24.1 points and 8.4 assists per game since March 8. For perspective, only twice has a player averaged those marks for a full season since 1990-91 (LeBron James in 2009-10 and Gary Payton in 1999-00).
Early, Williams’ production was matched by Brook Lopez, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half. Over and over again, Williams and Noah got favorable position inside against a team that has a reputation for defending the paint much tougher than it did. But that reputation was built by two players who were limited tonight.
Chicago was outscored by 13 points in the 12 minutes neither Noah, who’s losing his battle with plantar fasciitis, nor Gibson played, and that was the difference. When Noah is healthy, the Bulls don’t have to endure so much time without either of their top defenders.
The entire Bulls team didn’t pass Williams and Lopez alone in scoring until midway through the second quarter, as Chicago’s offensive troubles became the predominant story of the game.
For a long time, Carlos Boozer, who finished 25 points, was the Bulls’ only reliable scoring source.
Luol Deng made the Bulls first field goal, and then he didn’t make another shot until the third quarter was mostly over, finishing 3-for-11. Kirk Hinrich, who limped off late in the third quarter and didn’t return, and Richard Hamilton combined to shoot 0-for-5. Marco Belinelli shot 3-for-8, though he at least got to the line.
There’s no doubt Chicago, which scored just 35 first-half points, had offensive problems. But those issues were overstated.
The Bulls still had a higher offensive rating (102.7) than all four teams that played earlier in the day: Knicks (95.9), Nuggets (95.7), Warriors (91.7) and Celtics (95.9).
However, Robinson – likely because Tom Thibodeau didn’t trust the point guard’s defense – played just eight minutes before the fourth quarter, and Butler disappeared for nearly the entire first half. Butler’s issues are perhaps correctable, but it’s getting too late for Robinson to endear himself to Thibodeau, even though riding Robinson’s high-variance game might be the Bulls’ best chance as underdogs.
The Nets, on the other hand, never had problems getting going. In addition to Williams and Lopez, Joe Johnson (16 points), Gerald Wallace (14 points), C.J. Watson (14) and Andray Blatche (12 points) all had their moments in supporting roles.
As big as the gap looked between these teams tonight, the series isn’t over, and several Bulls (and two former Bulls who now play for the Nets, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans) should know that. The last team to win Game 1 by at least 17 points and then lose the series was the Bulls, who beat the Miami Heat by 21 before losing the next four games.
Noah might not be able to give the Bulls much in this series, but they can look to his words after that big win over the Heat two years ago.
“It’s only one game,” Noah said. “There’s a lot of basketball to be played.”
Mar 29, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
The Clippers beat the Celtics and had the best highlight of the game.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
All our thoughts are with him.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Monty Williams is not amused.
Mar 29, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
The Rockets won 99-91 in Washington.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
You needed this in your life.
Mar 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Obviously, the Spurs will match any offer he gets.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
This likely means the end of the Nate Robinson era.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Most expect another lockout following the 2016-17 season.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Great execution by the Blazers.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Kanter found a way to motivate the Jazz in the dog days of the season, and the Thunder lost in part because of it.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
“You don’t have to be best friends to come out here and work together.”
Mar 29, 2015, 12:26 AM EDT
The Golden State Warriors are the team to beat out West.
Enes Kanter rips Jazz, calls his time there a ‘three-and-a-half-year frustration'; gets booed by fans
Mar 28, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Kanter was traded to the Thunder midseason.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
MJ’s still got it.
Lakers coach Byron Scott says opposing players have told him during games they’d ‘love to be in L.A. next year’
Mar 28, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Big, if true.
Mar 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Legislation was signed into law in Indiana last week, and has been criticized as one that could legalize discrimination.
Mar 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Hornets, still fighting for a playoff spot, catch a break.
Mar 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Van Gundy coached five seasons in Orlando, but was fired after the way the Dwight Howard debacle played out.
Mar 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Kerr was joking, and making light of a mini-controversy that occurred recently with the Cavaliers.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Clark played key bench minutes the same day he was signed.
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- Mark Cuban rips officials, NBA: ‘It’s criminal’ how Monta Ellis doesn’t get calls 25
- Shaquille O’Neal says he regrets leaving Magic for Lakers 43
- Cavaliers coach David Blatt: ‘LeBron James is our MVP’ 22
- No Durant, what does that mean for Thunder in these playoffs? Trouble. 15
- Kevin Durant to have third foot surgery; is done for season, playoffs 39
- Goran Dragic leading feisty Heat’s playoff push 29