Little Nate Robinson carried the Chicago Bulls on Saturday (Getty Images)
One of the more unlikely playoff teams in NBA history has pulled off one of the more unlikely wins in NBA playoff history. The Chicago Bulls defeated the Brooklyn Nets, 142-134, on Saturday afternoon in a four-hour, triple-overtime marathon that at one point seemed in danger of doubling the score of Thursday night’s sluggish Game 3 Bulls victory.
For the first three games of the Bulls-Nets series, the on-court action was criticized for being deliberate, defensively based, and too ugly for public consumption. On Saturday afternoon, though, the public consumed a whole lot more of the Bulls and Nets than they expected. Sixty-three minutes worth of action from the two teams, as Chicago pulled out the remarkable win thanks to the play of Nate Robinson, and the team’s ability to overcome just about any obstacle imaginable.
The game started as a surprisingly efficient offensive affair, with both sides running out to a strong first half while point guards Kirk Hinrich and Deron Williams traded jumpers as opposed to trading stops. Brooklyn grew in confidence as the game moved along, thanks in part to a Bulls defense that seemed a little flat for the first time in a few games — Williams (32 points, 11 for 25 shooting on Saturday after missing 17 of his last 23 shots heading into Game 4) and Joe Johnson (22 points) were allowed to step into jumpers, while the team’s bench contributed solid play on the offensive end.
As a result, the Bulls turned to one of the NBA’s more offensive players. Pugnacious, 5-foot-9 spark-plug Robinson.
Robinson was devastating in the final quarter of regulation, nearly breaking Michael Jordan’s Bulls playoff record of 24 fourth-quarter points with a 23-point turn in 12 minutes of dominant offensive play. Robinson was able to either turn the corner on a step-slow Nets defense or pull up for a series of long-range bombs, single-handedly bringing Chicago back into a game that that appeared to pass them by partway through the fourth quarter. Here is his handiwork:
Robinson's fourth-quarter explosion brought the Bulls back from 14 points down with 3:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, putting Chicago in position to earn a 109-109 tie in the final minute of regulation. After two Brook Lopez free throws put the Nets up 111-109, a Joakim Noah put-back lay-in sent the game into its first overtime.
Its first overtime.
Robinson continued to keep the Nets on a string in the first extra session, mixing makes with smart passes as Chicago slowly stepped up the interior passing game that did them so well when center Noah was healthy earlier this year.
His toughest make of the overtime period was Chicago’s most crucial — an odd, banked-in 2-pointer that saw Robinson jumping from on top of the 3-point line and leaning in while nearly releasing the jumper near the free-throw line, which gave the Bulls a 121-119 lead with 1.7 seconds remaining in overtime. Watch:
But the Nets' Johnson had an answer up his sleeve to knot things up and force another OT:
Robinson eventually fouled out on a tough offensive foul call with 1:03 remaining in double overtime, but not before tossing in 34 points and four assists in 28 1/2 minutes of play. Without each and every bit of that output, the Bulls would be heading back to Brooklyn with a best-of-three series to play, with two games coming on the Nets’ home court.
Instead, the Bulls hung tough. When Robinson went down, Noah and Carlos Boozer stepped up the scoring on the interior. When Noah fouled out in the third overtime, Taj Gibson came in and made a big jumper to give Chicago a five-point lead. When Gibson fouled out, Nazr Mohammed rumbled off the bench to score four points in the game’s final minute to seal the win. All while Hinrich and Luol Deng wore themselves silly attempting to stay with Williams and Johnson.
The Nets aren’t out of the series — Chicago often shoots so poorly that it may take them the next game and a half to rack up the 142 they scored on Saturday, and the Nets have proven they can be in close games with Chicago on the road. Still, after working up a double-figure lead in the fourth quarter, and after watching as a potentially game-clinching dunk from C.J. Watson went awry, the Nets have to be more than frustrated at letting this slip away.
And then merely playing to a tie in the first overtime.
And doing the same second overtime.
We’re not sure what more you have to take away from the Bulls to make a loser out of them. This team just will not go away.
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