As much as the Bulls’ injury concerns are discussed—in particular, Joakim Noah’s ailing right foot—one would think they’re the only team that’s banged up in their first-round playoff series against the Nets.
But heading into Thursday night’s Game 3 at the United Center, Brooklyn is ailing, too, as Joe Johnson, like Noah, is suffering from plantar fasciitis—in his left foot—and his status for the contest is uncertain.
“I’m all right. We’ll just have to see later on this evening,” Johnson said before the Nets’ morning shootaround at the United Center. “I don’t even know what the plan is this morning, so I’m just kind of going with the flow.
“It happened during the first quarter of the game the other night, but I just played through it. A little minor setback, but I did the necessary things that I need to do to get back on the court,” the swingman added. “I feel a little better than I did yesterday.”
[RELATED: Game 3: Bulls clash with Nets]
Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo took a very Tom Thibodeau-like approach to updating Johnson’s situation, saying, “We’ll see if he can play. If he can play, he’s going to play.”
However, Johnson’s backcourt mate, former University of Illinois star Deron Williams was more expansive.
“We need Joe out there. We’ve talked about it all year. He’s a big part of this team, an added scorer out there that we need on the floor, commands double teams when he’s out there, so we need him out there and need him healthy,” the point guard said. “That being said, we don’t know how he’s feeling, so we’ve got to go out there and play hard. It’s the playoffs. Injuries happen. It’s somebody else’s chance to step up if that’s the case.”
Either way, the Nets will have to muster up a more efficient scoring effort than they did in their Game 2 loss if they want to take back the home-court advantage they surrendered Monday in Brooklyn.
“We just need to execute a lot better. We need to attack more. I’m actually hoping to call Thibs today and if they would defend more the way they defended in Game 1, we’ll be fine,” Carlesimo quipped. “If they defend the way they defended in Game 2, we’re going to have to execute a lot better and attack the basket more, get to the free-throw line and get some more offensive rebounds, do things a lot better than we did in Game 2.
“They load their defense and they really take things away from you, so you’ve got to go to other options and the good news for us is we’ve got guys who are capable of creating shots for themselves. The bad news is they’re very good at taking those things away, so that’s why we need other aspects to score also, but we still have to go to our strengths. The two games so far have been dramatically different in terms of our offense against their defense, so we just have to go out and attack better. Yes, we need to find other ways to score, but we’re certainly going to iso our guys,” he continued. “They have excellent defensive athletes. I think the concepts are very, very good and they work at it. They just executed better.
“When you play Chicago, you know what you’re going to get, so you have to attack that well and you’ve got to do other things.”
Williams concurred: “That’s their bread and butter. They’re a defensive team. That’s what they rely on. We knew after Game 1 that they were going to come up with a new game plan or execute their game plan better and I think they did that. They did a good job of that.”
A concerted effort to slow down Williams was a major reason for the Bulls’ Game 2 success and the Nets will be expecting more of the same Thursday.
“They definitely paid more attention to me and tried to keep the ball out of my hands, and picked me up a little earlier and forced me left, so those are the adjustments that I saw,” Williams explained. “I’ve been forced that way. I can go left, so that doesn’t bother me. It was more the help, not the forcing me one way or the other. That doesn’t matter to me.”
Carlesimo chimed in: “I think they defended very well, but I think Deron’s played a lot of games and seen a lot of different defensive strategies, so I think he’ll be fine. I think Deron will be aggressive, I think Deron will make some shots and I expect him to play very well.”
The Nets are also anticipating the Bulls will have a raucous home crowd behind them in Game 3, something Williams is familiar with form his college days.
“I’ve played here a lot, not just in the NBA. We played a lot of games at Illinois, in the Big 10 Tournament and just random games throughout my career there, so I definitely love this building and love coming back here and playing,” he said. The crowd is definitely going to play a part in it and if we don’t let them get into a rhythm and get the crowd excited, then it works to our advantage.
“The crowd, teams play better at home and even more so in the playoffs, and then, you can’t afford to get down 12, 15 points in a playoff game. It’s really tough to come back. Regular season, teams tend to relax and that doesn’t really happen much in the playoffs,” he went on to say. “This is my first time having home-court advantage in the first round and we already gave it away, so there’s definitely a sense of urgency for us because we need to be focused on winning this game tonight.”
Johnson added: “I think Coach Thibs does a great job with his players, as far as the system that they run offensively and defensively, so that’s probably the main thing that kind of probably makes it a tough arena to play in.
“We’ve just got to bring the energy and effort. That’s pretty much it. I think everything else takes care of itself at this point. Everybody knows everybody’s plays, what we’re going to run and what they’re going to do. It’s about who wants it more,” he continued. “We just stick together through the ups and downs. There’s going to be runs made in the game and whether we have the lead, and a team has made a run to get back in the game, we’ve always kept our composure and stayed tight.”
Carlesimo believes that Brooklyn’s regular-season road success could carry over to the postseason, something necessary for the Nets to advance to the second round.
“Maybe the veteran experience. Maybe we react well. Sometimes teams feed off a good environment. It’s a loud, very supportive building and sometimes, some guys are intimidated a little bit by that, some guys feed off that. I’m really not sure what it is, but whatever reason, we’ve been a decent road team—way above-average road team—so hopefully it’s going to continue,” he explained. “Generally speaking, in the playoffs, you have to win on the road. You don’t win too many times without winning on the road. You talk about protecting home court; they’ve taken home court away from us right now. But any series we’ve ever gone into, you plan on winning a game on the road. I don’t think you can say, ‘Well, we’re going to win the four we’ve got at home. That’s how we’re going to win the series.’ That’s a hard way to do it.”
Besides Johnson, another member of the Nets’ rotation who’s currently banged up is former Bulls starter Keith Bogans, now a defensive-minded reserve in Brooklyn.
Bogans told CSNChicago.com that he’ll “definitely go” in Game 3, despite suffering from a back ailment.