By Dayana Sarkisova
The Bulls will try once again on Thursday to wrap up the series against the Brooklyn Nets and move on to the second round of the playoffs against the Miami Heat. And while the home court is certainly an advantage for the Bulls, the Nets won’t be going down without a fight.
“We’ve been confident throughout the whole series, regardless of whether they’re up 3-1. The series isn’t over until a team gets 4 wins,” said Joe Johnson, following the team’s Wednesday practice in East Rutherford. “At this point we still have a shot, and we understand that we have a big task ahead of us and that’s going to Chicago and getting a win.”
Johnson, who has been battling a left heel injury since February, admitted that if it were the regular season he would not be playing through this type of pain. But with their “backs against the wall,” Johnson says he has no choice.
“We’re really focusing in. There’s times when I do have to push off a lot and make plays … I’m just doing what I need to do to be out there for my guys,” Johnson said. “As much as it bothers me, I just play through it or just stick it out.”
The Bulls are by no means strangers to injury either, as their battles have continued into the postseason. Loul Deng and Taj Gibson both missed practice on Wednesday due to sickness, while it is likely that point guard Kirk Henrich will miss his second straight game due to a bruised calf, causing a stir in the Bulls’ lineups.
“Kirk is a big part; that’s obvious,” said Joakim Noah. “We all have to do a do a little bit more … Just disappointing because I feel like we beat ourselves in a lot of ways. Missed assignments, missed defensive assignments, just not being in the right spot offensively, sets.”
The Bulls lead the series in shooting, 47 percent to about 45 percent for the Nets. But the Nets lead in just about every other traditional basketball statistic one can consider, including rebounding, three-point shooting, free throws, and blocks and steals. So why is it that the Nets have dug themselves into such a playoff hole?
“They’re a defensive team. But when it’s me and Brook [Lopez] on the court with Deron and whoever, it spreads, and it spaces the floor so much, Noah can’t just spot up and they gotta respect my jump shot and respect my game,” Johnson said. “We’re the tougher team. We gotta continue to show that and fight.”
But aside from injury and offensive struggles, the Nets must also overcome the mental hurdle of having yet to win a game at the United Center this season.
“We’ve been up in a couple of them. It’s just about us going out and doing it. We feel like we can do it, we have to go out there and compete and execute our game plan and play good basketball,” Deron Williams stated. “That record doesn’t matter for anything. We’re down 3-2 and we’re looking forward to Game 6.”
Johnson added: “At this point it’s about who wants it bad enough. We definitely have to come out and be the thirstier team. We’ve proven a lot throughout the series, right now our backs are against the wall still and we have to go to Chicago and win a game. Point blank. “