The four and five seeds are, on paper, as evenly matched as two teams can get in the playoffs. Though Game 1 of the Brooklyn Nets (4) vs. Chicago Bulls (5) matchup on Friday looked anything but even. The Nets won their first playoff game as the Brooklyn Nets 106-89 over the Bulls, giving them an early 1-0 lead in the 7-game series.
However, there likely isn’t team of more capable of bouncing back in Game 2 Monday night and making this a real series. The Bulls ended two long winning streaks this year: the Miami Heat saw the Bulls snap their historic 27-game run and shortly thereafter the Knicks impressive 13-game streak was killed by Chicago. The character of this Bulls team will be put to the test Monday in Brooklyn — and recent history suggests the Bulls will come onto the court with a chip on their collective shoulder.
They’ve lacked the services of MVP point guard Derrick Rose all year and have recently been hit with injuries to center Joakim Noah and point guard Kirk Hinrich. While they’ve adjusted to playing without Rose, the injuries to Hinrich and Noah definitely impacted their play in Game 1. Both Noah and Hinrich started the game, Noah played 13 total minutes and looked more than a few steps behind, and Hinrich lasted 28 minutes but had a team low -19 plus/minus average on the game.
Coach Tom Thibodeau seemed confident that a healthy Noah would return in Game 2 and should be much more effective — a key component for a Bulls victory. Noah is the only body on the Bulls capable of giving Nets center Brook Lopez some difficulty. Forwards Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer certainly represent big bodies down low to bang around the seven-foot Lopez, but the height difference is too much to handle. Noah, who stands 6′ 11″ and is an annoying presence for all NBA big men, can easily disrupt Lopez when he is at his best.
The biggest concern for the Bulls heading into Game 2 will be point guard Deron Williams — specifically, how to contain him. Williams led the Nets with a +24 plus/minus and was an efficient 9-15 from the field en route to 22 points and seven assists. The Bulls threw an assortment of defenders at Williams, with each seeming to fail at the task more seriously than the last. The team might need to look elsewhere to snag a Game 2 win.
Luol Deng, the Bulls regular-season leading scorer, had six points on 3-11 shooting in game one, and that just won’t do the job. The Bulls will need Deng to bounce back in Game 2 if they want to have any chance at winning. They also will need to get outside looks for their lethal downtown shooters Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson.
The Nets are clicking on offense, and they have been for a while. It may be too much for even the defensive-minded Bulls to handle. Beating the Nets requires an offensive attack that outmatches their own, and the Bulls, at least if Friday’s performance is anything to go by, don’t seem to have the weapons to execute. On paper, it looked like a great matchup. But if the Bulls find themselves down 0-2 going into game three, this series is as good as over.