Noah, Boozer push Bulls to Game 7 win in Brooklyn

Noah, Boozer push Bulls to Game 7 win in Brooklyn

May 4, 2013, 9:15 pm
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NEW YORK—Joakim Noah not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.

Forget the Bulls’ 0-6 record in Game 7’s on the road or the litany of injuries they faced coming into Saturday night’s series finale at the Barclays Center.

The only thing that was important was their All-Star center leading the way with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks when they needed it most, helping the Bulls conquer the Nets, 99-93, setting up a second-round series with the defending-champion Heat, with the opener Monday in Miami.

A tremendous effort from the Bulls’ reserves, especially in the first half, was also crucial to the win and the team never trailed in overcoming adversity in the first round of the postseason, which has perhaps been the theme of their entire campaign.

Following a quick start by the visitors that featured solid offensive rebounding, the Bulls allowed their hosts to play catch-up, as the likes of Gerald Wallace (19 points) and Deron Williams (24 points, seven assists, six rebounds) helped make it a close-knit affair.

Noah looked agile, changing ends well and playing aggressively on the offensive end, while Marco Belinelli (24 points, six rebounds)—starting for the second consecutive game in place of injured veteran Kirk Hinrich—also made his presence felt as a scorer.

The guests maintained a slight edge, even as Nets All-Star center Brook Lopez (21 points, nine rebounds) started to get involved, but his Bulls counterpart, Noah, continued to wreak havoc and a pair of triples from Nate Robinson (12 points) also played a part in keeping the lead.

Although Brooklyn also got a lift off the bench from big man Andray Blatche, after the opening period, the Bulls led, 29-25, following a baseline jumper by Brooklyn native Taj Gibson to beat the first-quarter buzzer.

With Noah taking a breather, Belinelli shouldered the scoring burden at the outset of the second quarter and the Bulls’ lead initially ballooned as the visitors fielded a lineup of mostly reserves.

The likes of Gibson, veteran backup center Nazr Mohammed, reserve swingman Daequan Cook and rookie point guard Marquis Teague—the 20-year-old pushed the pace, set up his teammates, was aggressive going to the rim and maintained a calm demeanor—gave the Bulls some breathing room, causing early murmuring amongst the Brooklyn loyalists.

After Noah was reinserted into the contest, the Bulls pushed their advantage to double digits, as the center continued to put his stamp on the contest, further silencing the home crowd, who appeared stunned at what the undermanned visitors were doing.

Surprise turned to boos, as the Bulls began rolling, seemingly doing everything right and pouring it leading up to halftime, and with Carlos Boozer (17 points, seven rebounds), Jimmy Butler and Robinson also chipping in, the guests held a comfortable 59-44 advantage at the intermission, following a Boozer dunk out of smartly drawn-up inbounds play out of a timeout.

After the break, with rugged power forward Reggie Evans serving as a catalyst and firing up the crowd, the Nets came out with energy in an to combat the Bulls’ well-played first half, which included a 21-13 rebounding advantage, 55.3 percent field-goal shooting and only three turnovers.

Lopez was also a force, but a pair of back-to-back threes by Wallace almost brought the roof off of the new arena, as Brooklyn sliced into the deficit and made it a single-digit affair, prompting a Bulls timeout with 7:36 left in the period.

In addition to unforced errors, no longer dominating the glass and an inability to get defensive stops, Boozer picked up his third and fourth fouls, which certainly didn’t help the momentum, as the Nets continue to roar back behind Wallace and even Joe Johnson, who endured a scoreless first half of action.

Brooklyn continued to challenge their guests, partially due to 5-for-9 shooting from deep in the period, but due to strong play from Butler and particularly Noah—who was in groove offensively, was a major presence on defense and ran the floor as if his plantar fasciitis was a thing of the past—the Bulls managed to hold them off and take a 82-75 edge into the final stanza.

More than two minutes passed before either team got on the board in the fourth quarter—Nets backup Kris Humphries splitting a pair of free throws with 9:45 remaining finally broke the ice—but although the Bulls, with Teague on the floor at a crucial juncture in the contest maintained their lead, things appeared to be going the way of the hosts, who had seemingly seized control of the boards.

Noah’s inspirational play—he set a career-high in blocked shots, did his usual work as a rebounder and threw in a huge scoring effort, to boot—kept the Bulls afloat, even as the Nets made repeated pushes to make it a close-knit affair.

As the game headed into the stretch run, the Bulls once again upped their lead to double digits and for the once-energetic home fans, reality began to set in, as their squad was simply matched up with a more determined, tough-minded bunch, injuries aside.

A Williams three-point play cut it to a five-point lead with 2:26 to go, but on the subsequent possession, Belinelli responded with a layup of his own and after a defensive stop, there seemed to be no chance that the Bulls would relinquish the lead they’d held from start to finish.

Brooklyn again cut it to a five-point deficit, 95-90, with under a minute left, but a Johnson corner triple was off the mark and the hosts were forced to foul, concluding the Nets’ opening season in their sparkling-new building.