Apr 20, 2013, 11:43 PM EST
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.”
Nov 23, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
“This is not even the lowest it’s going to get for us.” —LeBron James
Nov 23, 2014, 1:04 AM EST
There was nothing the Utah Jazz could do.
Nov 22, 2014, 11:30 PM EST
Adam Silver has said it should happen, and Cuban agrees.
Nov 22, 2014, 10:00 PM EST
Leonard missed time with an eye infection.
Nov 22, 2014, 8:30 PM EST
Dunleavy says he was just trying to foul to stop the clock. Watch and decide for yourself.
Nov 22, 2014, 7:06 PM EST
With him and starting power forward Terrence Jones out, the Rockets are very thin up front.
Nov 22, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
Detroit is next to last in field goal percentage on the season.
Nov 22, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Toronto won by 42 points, so this only matters if you had a certain Milwaukee player on your fantasy team.
Nov 22, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
Mike James or Will Bynum could be added to the roster for a short stint.
Nov 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Bledsoe says the Sixers warned him before the game that he would be targeted for his previous comments.
Nov 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
X-rays were negative but he is going to miss some time.
Nov 22, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Both are expected to participate in parts of Saturday’s practice.
Nov 22, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Nov 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
George is trying to get back on the court before the season is finished.
Nov 22, 2014, 1:56 AM EST
I missed JaVale McGee last year.
Nov 22, 2014, 12:01 AM EST
LeBron with a nice highlight package early in Friday’s contest against the Wizards.
Nov 21, 2014, 10:45 PM EST
Bledsoe said yesterday that Philadelphia would lose to a college team.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:46 PM EST
He will not play against the Mavericks, at least.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:30 PM EST
Kirilenko appears to be done in Brooklyn.
Michele Roberts: NBA agreed to work with union before attempt to ‘prove its toughness’ with Jeff Taylor suspension
Nov 21, 2014, 7:30 PM EST
National Basketball Players Association executive director: NBA ‘chose to bend to the pressure it feels from the current media spotlight’
- LeBron James: “We’re a very fragile team right now” 1
- Dwight Howard out vs. Mavericks Saturday, no timetable for his return 2
- If Derrick Rose not ready to return by Monday Bulls may add point guard to roster 12
- Another day, another Bulls injury: Taj Gibson out with sprained ankle 11
- Report: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook could return to Thunder lineup next week 11
- Kobe Bryant says he took large enough discount for Lakers to contend 55
- Report: Jeff Taylor won’t appeal 24-game suspension 2
- Timberwolves’ Kevin Martin out indefinitely after scoring 31 points with fractured wrist 8