Joakim Noah has played in the NBA for six seasons, and he has been heavily involved in two epic triple-overtime games at the United Center.
He even has been on the winning side both times. The Bulls evoked memories of the 2009 three-OT game against Boston by delivering an exhausting 142-134 victory over Brooklyn on Saturday.
The win sent the Bulls to a 3-1 lead in this first-round series, and they can close it out in Game 5 on Monday night at the Barclays Center.
“Overtime games in the playoffs, close games in the playoffs, they’re so exciting,” Noah said in the locker room. “You can just feel the energy of the crowd. The basketball gods were on our side. Being down (14 with less than three minutes remaining), we just stayed with it, and Nate really took over offensively.”
The defining moment in that triple-OT win over Boston was Noah’s steal, three-quarter-court dribble and slam dunk over Paul Pierce.
This time the signature was a superhuman effort by Nate Robinson, who almost single-handedly erased the 14-point deficit late in the fourth quarter. Robinson finished with 34 points and scored 23 in the fourth quarter, 1 short of Michael Jordan’s franchise playoff record.
Overall in the fourth quarter, Robinson hit 9 of 11 shots from the field. With the Bulls trailing 109-95, Robinson knocked down a 3-pointer, a driving lay-in, a pullup jumper, 3 free throws after drawing a foul on Deron Williams, then another pullup jumper.
Robinson completed the 14-0 run by dishing a pass to Carlos Boozer, who finished a reverse lay-in with 55.4 seconds left to tie the score at 109-109.
“I always think I’m on fire, kind of like the old-school game NBA Jam,” Robinson said. “You make a couple in a row, the rim’s on fire. You shoot the ball, the ball’s on fire.
“I feel like that at times — all the time. Whenever I’m in the game, I just play with a lot of confidence. You kind of have to lie to yourself and feel like you can’t miss.”
In the first overtime, Robinson seemed to clinch the win for the Bulls by sinking a 22-foot running bank shot with 1.7 seconds on the clock. But Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson answered with a runner in the lane at the buzzer to even things up.
“That’s what he does,” Noah said of Robinson. “He’s done that for us more than a few times this year. He did it on a huge, huge stage.”
In the second overtime, neither team scored after Brook Lopez sank a free throw to tie it with 48.7 seconds left.
In the third overtime, Robinson was on the bench after fouling out. Taj Gibson and Luol Deng hit jumpers to put the Bulls up by 5, then Nazr Mohammed clinched the win by rebounding a missed Boozer free throw and laying it in.
“This game is Nate’s win,” Mohammed said. “He did everything to get us in this position to get us a win.”
The Nets did a nice job of keeping up a fast pace and making this a high-scoring game, which suits their style. In Game 3, Brooklyn scored 34 points at halftime. On Saturday, the Nets hit the break with 55.
Williams seemed determined to take over, and he finished with 32 points. But ultimately the Bulls’ depth and versatility made a difference.
While Williams played an exhausting 58 minutes, his scoring dropped off late in the game. Kirk Hinrich played 60 minutes for the Bulls, but they could give him a break by shifting Jimmy Butler over to guard Williams. When Noah fouled out, they could turn to Gibson, then bring in Mohammed as needed.
After the Nets built a 14-point lead, former Bulls guard C.J. Watson blew an uncontested dunk, then Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace each missed a pair of free throws while Robinson was rolling.
“We made a lot of mistakes up 14,” Williams said. “It was so long ago, I can’t remember what all went on. We had the missed dunk. Missed free throws. I fouled Nate on the 3. We made a lot of mistakes in the fourth quarter.”
Added Johnson, “It’s not over until the first team wins four games. We’ve still got a chance. We go back to Brooklyn, try to get some home cooking, get us a win there.
“Don’t worry about the series at this point; we’ve just do whatever it takes to protect home and try to make it back to Chicago.”
ŸFollow Mike’s Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls and check out his All Bull blog at dailyherald.com.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.