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.”
Sep 22, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT
It’s not going to change anytime soon, either.
Sep 22, 2014, 6:44 PM EDT
David Stockton, an undrafted free agent out of Gonzaga, also worked out for Thunder
Sep 22, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
He didn’t take anything seriously, so he was vintage Howard.
Sep 22, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT
The Rockets’ defensive system is not the problem with James Harden.
Sep 22, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT
Jones previously played for the Grizzlies, Kings, Nuggets, Pacers, Mavericks and Hawks
Sep 22, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Former Pistons No. 2 draft pick putting some distance between himself and basketball
Sep 22, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
Great job, Danny. Great job.
Sep 22, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
Jones – who played for the 76ers, Rockets, Bulls (during Michael Jordan’s rookie season), Trail Blazers and Spurs – helped shape Tim Duncan’s career
Sep 22, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
Chandler: ‘We are going to be a great defensive team’
Sep 22, 2014, 1:29 PM EDT
There were multiple NBA players arrested on domestic abuse charges last year. The spotlight on those cases will be different now.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
This is the Marcus Williams who played at Arizona, not Connecticut
Sep 22, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
James Blair can watch LeBron in person in Cleveland again
Sep 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
“The first thing I ever Googled about the man, the first thing that popped up was “racist.” So I was aware. I hate to say this, and it might sound ignorant, but I wasn’t surprised that all this came up.”—Blake Griffin on Donald Sterling
Sep 22, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
A healthy D Rose could have the Bulls contending for a title.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:11 AM EDT
Toddler imitates Allen Iverson’s practice rant
Sep 22, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT
LeBron is gone but Miami is still playing small, pressuring the ball.
Sep 22, 2014, 9:05 AM EDT
Price will provide point guard depth – at least through training camp
Sep 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“The truthful answer is I really don’t know.” —Danny Ainge on potentially trading Rajon Rondo
Sep 22, 2014, 12:21 AM EDT
Remember Sanders suffered a serious eye injury last season.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Way more Andre Iguodala than you might expect.
- Bruce Bowen says blame for James Harden’s defense falls on McHale, Rockets 8
- NBA to review domestic violence policies in wake of NFL’s ugliness. It shouldn’t have taken that. 12
- Cavaliers lift ban on fan who ran onto court with LeBron James shirt 15
- Blake Griffin said he knew Donald Sterling was racist, wasn’t really surprised by tape 13
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Chicago Bulls 10
- Tony Parker hits a back over-the-head halfcourt shot (VIDEO) 8
- Timberwolves ‘not necessarily in a rush’ to agree to contract extension with Ricky Rubio 16
- Andray Blatche signs deal to play in China next season 11