Deron Williams Leads By Example, But Nets Fall Short Against Bulls

Moke Hamilton , NBA Analyst

NEW YORK — For the first time since March 17, the Nets played at Barclays Center.

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Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE

Unfortunately, just like March 17, they walked away after suffering a home loss to a team they may be pitted against in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Back on March 17, the Nets lost a 105-93 decision to the Atlanta Hawks and on Thursday night, they lost to the undermanned Chicago Bulls, 92-90.

These two losses are significant because, although the Nets have not been locked into a specific seed, it seems as though their two most likely first round playoff opponents are the Hawks or the Bulls.

At this point, all we know for sure is that the Miami Heat will be the conference’s top seed. The New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, in some order, will likely end the season as the second and third seeded teams.

But in the bottom half of the conference, the picture is confusing and changes almost hourly. The Boston Celtics, for example, are currently the seventh seed in the conference with a 39-36 record. Mathematically, though, it is still possible for them to finish as high as fourth.

That is why every game counts for the Nets and that is why Thursday night’s loss hurts.

The Bulls were led by a monstrous game from Carlos Boozer, who scored 29 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and added three assists. He combined with Nate Robinson (12 points) and Jimmy Butler (16 points) to make timely shots down the stretch and steal a game the Bulls did not seem likely to win.

With the loss, the Nets surrendered a game to the Bulls in the standings and also lost the season series to them, 1-3. In the event that the teams end the season with the same record, the Bulls would get the higher seed by virtue of winning the season series.

In other words, the loss may have made things more difficult for the Nets. That is precisely why Deron Williams did his best to pull the game out for his team. In a word, Williams was spectacular, particularly in the game’s final quarter. He scored nine of his 30 points in the game’s final frame and consistently broke down the Bulls perimeter defense and found open teammates.

He added 10 assists and shot 9-of-16 from the field.

In a play that was indicative of his desire to win, Williams drove the lane with 2:22 remaining in the quarter and attempted to posterize his former teammates, Carlos Boozer. He missed the dunk but earned a trip to the line for his effort, converting 1-of-2 attempts on that trip.

“I wanted to help my team in any way possible,” Williams said after the game. “This was a big game for us. We wanted to get this win bad. It was a shame we couldn’t get it, especially being up 16.”

Agreed.

Though they would never admit it, the Nets would probably prefer to draw the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, but the loss actually makes them more likely to have to square off against the Bulls. The Bulls entered play on Thursday as the sixth seed and a loss to the Nets would have helped to keep them there.

Instead, the Bulls scored a huge win.

The Nets split the season series with the Hawks, 2-2 and the Bulls are renowned for being a feisty defensive team that has good depth. It was on display on Thursday night, as the Bulls managed to defeat the Nets without All-Star center Joakim Noah and key reserves Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli.

“We were aware of the standings,” Williams said. “They were only a game behind us and that was the tiebreaker so that was a bad loss for us.”

The Nets held a 47-36 lead at the half, but things unraveled for the club in the third quarter, where the Bulls outscored them 29-20 to make it a two point game heading into the game’s final frame.

“We just kinda let them be the aggressor. I think we had too many turnovers, they had too many offensive rebounds and those were probably the biggest things that we saw in the game. We were very aggressive defensively in the first half, building our lead and in the second half, they were the aggressor.”

Now, the already tight Eastern Conference standings are even more jumbled.

As it currently stands, the Nets are the fourth seed in the conference and would play the Bulls (currently, the fifth seed) in a first round series.

The Hawks (currently sixth), would draw the Indiana Pacers, the third seed.

Yes, there is still a lot of season left and things are likely to change, but Williams said it best when asked to look ahead to Saturday night’s matchup against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.

“It’s another big game now,” he said. “Every game is crucial now, going down the stretch. Every one counts, every one means so much, we need to not overlook this Charlotte team, despite their record.”

He then added, “We need a win.”

And that, is pretty easy to agree with, despite the fact that the Nets have already put together a very respectable season. How long into the spring it continues may very well depend on who they have to battle in the first round, and the last place the Nets want to be, is pitted in the first round series against the Bulls, especially if one or two games could be the difference between drawing a more favorable first round matchup.