Bulls not getting overconfident against undermanned Nets: 'Our team understands what's at stake'

Bulls not getting overconfident against undermanned Nets: 'Our team understands what's at stake'

The Bulls are treating the season finale against the Brooklyn Nets like any other game, even though a playoff berth is on the line.

Same preparation, same way they're going about things and despite the Nets resting the top six players on a team that's only won 20 games, the Bulls are saying all the right things about respecting their opponent.

But it's difficult to do so when the Nets are letting their main talent, guys like Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez for starters, sport their finest threads as opposed to trying to play spoiler for the Bulls at the United Center.

It certainly seemed probable the Nets could beat the Bulls for the second time in five days but the talent that they'll roll out tonight doesn't match up with what the Bulls have, even if the talent is underachieving.

"Well, the big thing is, it doesn't change our approach," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We have a gameplan in place for whoever takes the floor for Brooklyn. We know it's a group that's going to come out and play extremely hard and they're going to play with great pace. Our coverages change a little bit just based on some of the things we think they'll do, but it's going to be a high-level game. We need to go out and approach it just like last week. Get a defensive mindset, hopefully get off to a great start and sustain it for 48 minutes."

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No word on whether Hoiberg sent Nets coach Kenny Atkinson a gift basket to the team hotel when the Nets arrived, helping Hoiberg likely clinch his first playoff spot since taking over as Bulls coach in 2015.

But whatever Hoiberg's internal feelings are, he's telling his team it can't let its guard down against an undermanned ballclub. Even though it seems highly unlikely, the Bulls could lose and miss out on the postseason for the second straight year—but that would be outright lunacy at this point.

"Our team understands what's at stake. It's obviously a win or go home type game," Hoiberg said. "They understand the urgency, the effort that we have to come out with. Again, I loved our approach in the game the other night. We have to do the same thing, the same mentality, coming out, hopefully getting off to a great start. We're a much better team when that happens. Hopefully our guys, you know, again, they've done a good job in this recent stretch and hopefully that doesn't change."

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes refs for not calling carries on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes refs for not calling carries on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Fred Hoiberg wasn't pleased with the officials on Sunday.

Following the Bulls' 104-95 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 4, the Bulls head coach criticized the refs for not calling carries on Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas.

"He had a hell of a game tonight, but when you're allowed discontiue your dribble on every possession, he is impossible to guard," Hoiberg said of Thomas. "He is impossible to guard when you're able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down. It's impossoble to guard him in those situations."

After hearing those comments, Thomas said that he can't recall at any point this entire season where he was called for a carry.

"I've been dribbling that way my whole life," Thomas said. "I don't know what to say to that."

Thomas finished the game with 33 points and seven assists in 35 minutes played, leading his team to even up the series at 2-2.

Bulls comeback falls flat as Celtics tie series at 2-2

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USA TODAY

Bulls comeback falls flat as Celtics tie series at 2-2

By the numbers it looks like the series has gone to form but it certainly feels like the Bulls lost more than control of it with their 104-95 loss to the Celtics at the United Center Sunday evening.

The series is tied at two games apiece but it certainly has the feel of a Celtics advantage, and not just because they have two of the last three games in their building in a series that hasn't seen a home team win a game.

It looks as if the Celtics have figured the Bulls out, taken their best shot and delivered some serious blows of their own, in the form of a 5-foot-9 dynamo who produced a signature moment of his own when his team needed him desperately.

If Isaiah Thomas isn't the best player in this series, he was certainly the freshest star when it counted, spearheading a 15-2 run to finish the third quarter when the Bulls made a resounding comeback to look as if they would ride a wave of emotion to an improbable 3-1 lead.

Thomas scored or assisted on the next 20 Celtic points, getting into the lane at will along with finding shooters and buckets inside, the biggest stretch of his 33-point night, as he added nine assists on 10 of 21 shooting and hitting 12 of his 13 free throws.

It didn't matter that the Bulls missed a grand opportunity to exploit one of the most vulnerable defensive players in the league in Thomas, as they refused to attack him after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third.

He kept attacking the Bulls, jumping on the expressway known as the Bulls' paint and finishing multiple times against taller defenders to restore order and press the lead back to 10 at the end of the third.

The Bulls were gassed after coming back from a 20-point deficit, with Jimmy Butler literally doing everything on his way to a 33-point night with nine assists and five rebounds. After a game where he didn't go to the foul line at all, he took every bump and every bruise on his way to 23 free throws.

Nikola Mirotic and Isaiah Canaan scored 13 with Dwyane Wade adding 11, but it was Wade's missed fast break layup that resulted in an Al Horford 3-point play after a dunk that made it 92-80, ending a relatively serious Bulls' threat.

Horford scored 15 with 12 rebounds while Brad Stevens' adjustment from Game 3, Gerald Green, scored all 18 of his points in the first half, helping the Celtics take control as they again gouged the Bulls from the 3-point line in the opening moments—starting with Thomas' patience against an aggressive Bulls defense.

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The game was an instant replay early, with the Celtics jumping out to an 11-4 lead and methodically increasing it throughout. Hoiberg gave his struggling point guards another chance, but Grant and Carter-Williams were again not up to task, with Hoiberg pulling them in favor for Isaiah Canaan.

Canaan hasn't played meaningful minutes in months and certainly has been little more than an afterthought since early April but provided a spark in 33 minutes, being a plus-20 and at least bothering Thomas on defense.

Canaan took a charge on Thomas and then hit a triple, bringing the deficit to five midway through the period. The Bulls took their first lead with a Robin Lopez duck-in hook shot at 65-63 before Thomas sliced inside for two layups on consecutive possessions.

Lopez began picking away at the Celtics on the glass, but only played 22 minutes as Hoiberg opted to go away from him and switch to a smaller lineup. It was a tactic that backfired, as the Bulls lost their advantage in paint scoring with each scoring 48 after the Bulls had dominated that department in their first two wins.

Among many things the Bulls tried, competing was their best counter and it'll have to be that in spades from here—because it looks like the Celtics have all the big faces, even if it's in a small package.