Top 13 of 2013: Nate Robinson's late playoff heroics beat Nets

Top 13 of 2013: Nate Robinson's late playoff heroics beat Nets
December 20, 2013, 7:00 pm
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Mark Strotman is taking a look back at what turned out to be a memorable year in the Windy City, by counting down the 13 biggest Chicago sports stories of 2013. Check back each day to see what other storylines were good enough to make the list.

When the Bulls signed Nate Robinson in July 2012, the front office did so knowing that there were two sides to the shot-happy, offensive spark plug.

There was "Bad Nate," which reared its ugly head on multiple occasions that season -- he shot 2 of 11 in a New Year's Eve loss to the Bobcats and bottomed out with a 2-for-14 performance in February against the Thunder -- and there was "Good Nate," who helped out a Bulls offense that struggled at times with sharpshooting from the outside and nifty passes in traffic that routinely ignited the United Center crowd.

Then, on Apr. 28, 2013, the Bulls witnessed "Great Nate."

With the Bulls holding a 2-1 series on the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, Robinson scored 34 points -- including 29 after halftime -- in Chicago's 142-134 triple overtime win at the United Center. It was a Jordan-esque performance from the 5-foot-9 court general, who scored 12 straight game points in the fourth quarter to bring the Bulls back from 14-point deficit with less than three minutes to play. His 29 points after halftime tied LeBron James in 2007 for the most points scored after the intermission in a playoff game the last 15 years.

Robinson's most impressive play, however, came in the first overtime, when he hit a deep, running one-hander over Deron Williams with 1.7 seconds left to give the Bulls a 121-119 lead. Though Joe Johnson would tie the game up to force a second overtime, it was perhaps Robinson's biggest moment of the afternoon. He fouled out with a minute remaining in that second overtime, but his teammates did the rest, outscoring the Nets 15-7 in the third overtime to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

"We all just kept saying to each other that we have enough time to come back, Carlos Boozer said. "Nate Robinson brought us back. We got stops, got the ball to Nate, got stops and got the ball to Nate. He carried us. He was amazing. I'm trying to remember that moment. It was a lot of setting screens, rebounding and Nate Robinson."

The Bulls had little choice but to put their faith in Robinson. With Derrick Rose missing the entire season recovering from ACL surgery and Kirk Hinrich battling multiple injuries the majority of the season, it left Robinson as the only Bulls point guard with NBA experience. It put him in the starting lineup -- where neither he nor the Bulls were probably most comfortable having him -- but on that warm April afternoon, the Bulls saw "Bad Nate" -- five points on 2-for-5 shooting -- turn into "Good Nate" and ultimately into "Great Nate."

"I had a good understanding of who he is from my experience with him in Boston, and so, you've got to take the whole package and the good outweighs the bad," head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's done great for us, he's had a lot of big moments, we've needed his scoring, I think he's making plays better than he ever did, his defense is improving, so he's had a terrific year for us."

Top 13 stories of 2013

13. Wins and losses don't define Chris Sale's season 

12. Nate Robinson's late playoff heroics beat Nets 

11. Northern Illinois takes national stage in 2013, the Year of the Huskie

10. Cubs fire Sveum, showing cracks in foundation 

9. The bizarre catfishing of Manti Te'o

8. Cutler, McCown and the Bears' starting QB role

7. Blackhawks' record-breaking start

6. Historically bad season for Cubs and White Sox

5. Notre Dame crushed in BCS Championship Game

4. Bears sever ties with Brian Urlacher