Can Bulls play well without taking the first punch?
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Calling Thursday's Game 3 the most pivotal point in the Bulls-Brooklyn playoff series would be premature.
This one is important, but the same thing could be said about Game 5 if the series goes 2-2 and, obviously, Game 7 if it goes the distance.
But Game 3 of a playoff series does seem to be when the superior side steps forward. Remember, the one blowout in the classic Bulls-Celtics series of 2009 was Game 3, when Boston flexed its muscles with a 21-point win at the United Center.
The best-case scenario for the Bulls in this series is to win both games at home this weekend and put the Nets' backs to the wall by taking a 3-1 lead.
"It's not time to exhale right now," Joakim Noah said Wednesday at the Berto Center. "I think we've dealt with adversity very well this year. Every time we got hit with a punch, we always responded pretty well. Now it's the biggest game of the season, so it's on us to keep that mindset and improve."
Noah's statement is true, but also leads to maybe the biggest question about Game 3: The Bulls are great at bouncing back from adversity, but can they carry the momentum from Game 2 into a series lead?
A miserable performance in Game 1 had the Bulls ready for redemption two days later. Can they deliver another strong performance Thursday without first getting slapped around?
"I wouldn't call (Game 1) a wake-up call. I'd call it a dose of reality," Jimmy Butler said. "We tried to make it an offensive game and we didn't guard anybody."
By now, there aren't many secrets between the teams. If the Bulls play their style of defense, they will cause problems. Brooklyn has the star power with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson to make it tough on any defense.
Johnson missed Wednesday's practice because he's having issues with plantar fasciitis, but he's hoping to play in Game 3.
There are bound to be some minor strategy adjustments. The Bulls focused in Game 2 on stopping Williams, who vowed that he wouldn't play that poorly again.
"I think that's probably overblown," Thibodeau said of changing strategies. "The strengths of the team aren't going to change. We know how good they are and have to be ready.
"That what makes (the playoffs) so interesting. You're not dealing with back-to-backs and it's the same team over and over. They know what we're doing. We know what they're doing. You have to have the ability to stay with it. You have to be mentally tough. Sometimes things are going your way, sometimes they're not."
The Bulls are excited to play at home for Games 3 and 4, but they haven't been a dominant home team all season. They did go 2-0 against Brooklyn at the United Center.
"(Home court) can help, but not the way people make it seem," Butler said. "You've still got to go out there and play your best basketball, whether it's home or on the road."
Seconded Thibodeau: "You have to play well to win. You're not going to win just because you're home. That's not how it works. We have great support and we certainly appreciate it. But we have to give them something to cheer about."
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