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.”
Jun 30, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
This could be decided quickly.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
This was expected, there is no drama here.
Report: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker part of Spurs pitch to LaMarcus Aldridge (and they may be favorites)
Jun 30, 2015, 1:01 AM EDT
The Spurs are right at the front of the line with the Lakers to win Aldridge over.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:45 PM EDT
We knew Korver would need ankle surgery, but this is a bit of a surprise.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Aldridge is expected to leave Portland, and the most recent report has the Lakers as the frontrunners to retain his services.
Jun 29, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
Clippers remain frontrunners to retain Jordan’s services; Lakers, Mavericks also in the mix.
Jun 29, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Antic was with the Hawks the last two seasons.
Jun 29, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Davis is looking for a multi-year deal.
Jun 29, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
The bottom line is this: Butler is going to be a Bull next season.
Jun 29, 2015, 6:16 PM EDT
The first rule of trading a player is to not look like you want to trade that player.
Jun 29, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT
Kind of hard to picture him going to the Raptors considering the other options on the table.
Jun 29, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT
The real question for Wade and his effort to leverage the Heat: Who is going to give him more money than Miami?
Jun 29, 2015, 3:44 PM EDT
The report says $12 million a year for Afflalo, that price seems steep.
Jun 29, 2015, 3:18 PM EDT
They are trying to keep those two while dealing Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.
Jun 29, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Expect the Bledsoe drama to play out through the summer. Again.
Jun 29, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT
He has more leverage this way, can get a longer deal.
Jun 29, 2015, 1:24 PM EDT
Doesn’t Butler strike you as the kind of veteran the Spurs bring in and he’s rejuvenated?
Jun 29, 2015, 12:44 PM EDT
The question is only what length of contract Love will sign.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Where is Wade going to find a better deal on the open market?
Jun 29, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
Stan Van Gundy’s offense doesn’t really fit two traditional bigs.
- Report: Chicago Bulls give Jimmy Butler max qualifying offer 17
- Report: Dwyane Wade will not opt-in with Heat, to become free agent (as expected) 25
- Report: Knicks front runner to land Arron Afflalo (and Greg Monroe, too) 27
- Report: Luol Deng surprises Miami, opts in for 2015-16 season 30
- Report: Sense around league is Kevin Love will re-sign with Cavaliers 31
- Report: As deadline nears, signs still point to Dwyane Wade opting out, becoming free agent 40
- Report: Dallas most likely team to lure DeAndre Jordan from Clippers, Chandler Parsons already recruiting 24
- Report: Lakers would still trade D’Angelo Russell for DeMarcus Cousins straight up. Kings wouldn’t. 30