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.”
Apr 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Houston needs to make adjustments to the new Dallas starting lineup.
Apr 28, 2015, 2:13 AM EDT
Without Mike Conley to check him Damian Lillard ran free.
Apr 28, 2015, 1:14 AM EDT
D-Will tied his career playoff high with this.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:23 PM EDT
Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton combined for 43 points.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:56 PM EDT
Series is now tied at 2-2.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
Washington’s averaged defender distance to the Toronto shooter was 3.55 feet, the closest defense any team played in the first round of the playoffs.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:58 PM EDT
The doctor will decide if microfracture is needed while doing a scope.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:17 PM EDT
The Cavs will be without two starters for the first two games of next round.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
Davis was +35 when playing while Green sat, -55 while Green was on the court at the same time.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:22 PM EDT
He would have been key against the Bulls to help space the floor.
Apr 27, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Olynyk finds common ground with Clevelanders
Apr 27, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT
Stats show Boston defended LeBron well, he just hit the shots anyway.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
I say Smith should get at least three games.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:44 PM EDT
They need the swelling to go down to get a sense of his return,
Apr 27, 2015, 3:07 PM EDT
Preview socks for the Cavaliers, Heat, Spurs and Warriors
Apr 27, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT
Cavaliers gave him a chance to wait by sweeping Celtics
Apr 27, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT
Rockets lost closeout game to Dallas
Apr 27, 2015, 1:12 PM EDT
Wallace owed more than $10 million next season
Apr 27, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT
What does Walker’s cratered draft stock say about Billy Donovan?
Apr 27, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
If that was their plan, they executed it well
- PBT Extra: Rockets must adjust to new Mavericks starting lineup in Game 5 0
- Portland comes from 10 down in fourth quarter to win 99-92, stay alive in series 4
- Bucks stay alive behind big backcourt performance to force Game 6 vs. Bulls 13
- Incredible 35-point performance from Deron Williams leads Nets to overtime Game 4 win over Hawks 11
- PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Wizard’s defense peaking at right time 2
- Report: Chandler Parsons to have knee surgery, could require microfracture surgery 6
- Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith gets two-game suspension for shot to Jae Crowder’s head 40
- PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Draymond Green helped hold Anthony Davis in relative check 6