On Thursday night, the Nets defeated the Chicago Bulls by a final score of 95-92 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Skinny: The Bulls were shorthanded, playing without both Luol Deng (flu) and Kirk Hinrich (calf). The Nets seemed to smell blood and came out very aggressive. Brook Lopez (4-for-8) and Joe Johnson (5-for-6) each scored 10 points, but the Bulls got eight points each from Joakim Noah (4-for-6) and Marco Belinelli (4-for-7) and managed to keep it close after one. The Nets took quick shots and put an emphasis on pushing the ball. The biggest surprise was MarShon Brooks. Gerald Wallace picked up two early fouls, and Brooks was the first man off of P.J. Carlesimo’s bench. As a team, they didn’t turn the ball over in the first and led 33-27.
With the second unit, the Nets played relatively well and managed to hold a seven-point lead when the starters re-entered with about five minutes remaining in the half. Kris Humphries played with good energy, and the Bulls went about five game minutes between field goals at one point during the quarter, which left them in a hole. C.J. Watson, Andray Blatche and Humphries each scored four points in the second, but Nate Robinson sparked the Bulls to a run to close the gap to a single point, 47-46. Williams took over and scored eight points in the final two minutes of the half and helped the Nets out to a 60-54 halftime lead.
Wallace came out strong to start the second half, scoring five of the Nets’ first seven points. Carlos Boozer picked up his fourth foul in the opening minutes of the third, forcing him to the bench, but the Bulls hung right in there, cutting the Brooklyn lead to two. A Belinelli corner three later got the Bulls back within one. Noah then had two chances to give the Bulls the lead, but his shots each rimmed out. A steal and lay-up from Watson put the Nets back up three, leading to a Tom Thibodeau timeout. The Nets led by four after the third, 75-71.
A big three from Wallace put the Nets back up five early in the fourth, and from there, each team began missing easy close-range shots. Watson drilled a straight on three to put the Nets ahead 81-73 with just under nine minutes to play. Chicago missed its first nine shots of the quarter but started getting hot as an 8-2 run got the Bulls back within four. With the Bulls down five, Belinelli made another huge three to get within two. Blatche and Robinson traded jumpers with just over a minute to go, and then Boozer fouled out on a loose-ball foul. Blatche could only make 1-of-2 free-throws following the foul, giving the Bulls possession down three with 32 seconds to go. Nazr Mohammed made a lay-up to get Chicago within one. Following a Robinson foul, Blatche knocked down a pair of pressure free-throws, putting the Nets up three with 19.2 seconds left. The Bulls got an open look with Belinelli, but he missed the three and Noah stepped out of bounds after tracking down the rebound. On the inbound, Noah tied up Williams, forcing a jump ball between the two with 3.6 remaining. The Nets though controlled the tip and hung on for the win.
High Scorers: Belinelli led all scorers with a new playoff career-high 22 points on 8-of-21 shooting and had eight assists. For the Nets, Lopez, Johnson and Williams each scored 17 points.
Key Stats: The Bulls turned the ball over 16 times, but the Nets managed just 14 points off those turnovers, which kept the game close late.
Who Was Hot: Williams recorded a double-double with 11 assists to go along with his 17 points. Noah and Boozer each had double-doubles for the Bulls, and Jimmy Butler added 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Who Was Not: The Bulls’ bench managed just seven points, compared to 27 points from Brooklyn’s bench. But the Nets’ free-throw shooting wasn’t great (22-of-33 from the charity stripe).
Fun Fact: Before this win, the Nets had never won a Game 6 to force a Game 7 while trailing 3-2 in a series.
Jim MancariSo we will have a Game 7 as the Nets hung on late to get the road victory.
The Nets again though let the Bulls keep crawling back into things, lacking the knockout punch. But those late free-throws from Blatche really proved huge.
This was the first game of the series in which the team that won the rebounding battle did not win the game (Bulls 46, Nets 41).
Brooklyn keeps all the momentum as it returns home, trying to become the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series.
Game 7 will be Saturday night at Barclays Center. The game will be televised on the YES Network and TNT.
Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.