The Nets took care of the Bulls in Brooklyn on Monday night, and now the Bulls are looking to return the favor tonight and close out the Nets in Game 6 at the United Center. Comcast SportsNet has you covered all night and is the only place you can get the hometown call with Neil Funk and Stacey King. Tune in at 6:30 for Bulls Pregame Live with Mark Schanowski, Sidney Green and Will Perdue.
In just 72 short hours, the Bulls have gone from a confident team one victory away from a first-round playoff series win to a group facing a crucial game, perhaps without their most important defensive player.
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The Bulls still have a stronghold on the Nets, leading 3-2 and getting ready for Game 6 in the comforts of the United Center, but with starting point guard Kirk Hinrich (calf) doubtful Tom Thibodeau must figure out how to stop Deron Williams if they don’t want to go back to Brooklyn for a Game 7.
Hinrich suffered the injury late in the Bulls’ thrilling 142-134 triple-overtime victory in Game 4 — a game in which Hinrich played a whopping 59 minutes. He was forced to miss Monday’s Game 5 loss and the main benefactor was Williams, who scored 23 points and handed out 10 assists.
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Nate Robinson, Hinrich’s fill-in, played well offensively (20 points on 9-of-19 shooting and eight assists) but too often Williams was able to get to the lane, where he finished with contact, drew fouls or found an open Brook Lopez for an easy bucket.
Williams averaged 4.7 free-throw attempts per game in the regular season, and through four games, has gone to the line 21 times (5.25 average). But without Hinrich in the lineup, Williams, an 86 percent foul shooter, made 10 trips to the line in Monday's 110-91 win. He drew shooting fouls on Robinson (twice), Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli. Robinson also picked up a third non-shooting foul at the hands of Williams and while it didn’t limit the plug-in starter, it’s an issue the Bulls must address.
Robinson has made 24 starts this season — postseason included — and while his numbers are up in increased minutes, the Bulls are just 7-17 in those games. The trickle-down effect is that, with Robinson starting, rookie Marquis Teague and Marco Belinelli see increased minutes. Monday night Teague played three minutes and Belinelli 21, scoring eight points on 4-of-5 shooting but also struggled against Williams.
C.J. Watson also had a bounce-back performance without Hinrich in the lineup, scoring 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbing four rebounds.
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Brook Lopez has been the Nets’ most consistent performer in the series, scoring 21 points or more in each game (23.6 ppg average) and averaging 8.0 rebounds, and Joe Johnson has improved each game while dealing with the same plantar fasciitis injury that has hobbled Joakim Noah. Those two are important to Brooklyn’s success, but the Nets only will go as far as Williams takes them. That could spell trouble for the Bulls if they can’t figure out a way to slow him down.
Make sure you’re tuned into Comcast SportsNet all night and make sure to check out Bulls Pulse, using #BullsTalk on Twitter to join the conversation. Aggrey Sam (@CSNBullsInsider) has you covered all night, too.