This was the stuff of legends in a game for the ages.
Nate Robinson -- the Bulls' red-hot, deep-fried tater tot -- pulled a Michael Jordan by scoring in bunches to carry his team to victory Saturday in the United Center.
Robinson was Ryne Sandberg hitting a couple of home runs off Bruce Sutter on an afternoon in 1984. He was Geoff Blum hitting a homer to win a 14-inning World Series game on an early morning in 2005.
Before fouling out late in the second overtime, Robinson placed the Nets on a tee for his teammates and they did the rest in a 142-134 victory in three OTs.
Joakim Noah responded by playing 40 minutes despite suffering plantar fasciitis. Kirk Hinrich chased Deron Williams around for 60 minutes and still found time to compile 18 points and 14 assists. Nazr Mohammed came off the bench to score 9 critical points.
The defensive-minded, offensive-challenged Bulls aren't supposed to win shootouts like this, and they wouldn't have on this afternoon without Robinson's energetic 34 points in 29 minutes.
Now the Bulls are ahead 3-1 in this best-of-seven, opening-round, NBA playoff series and have a chance to close out the Nets at Brooklyn on Monday night.
Robinson will show up. He always does, for better or worse. He has that Good Nate-Bad Nate thing down pat.
"He's a character, now," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was a Celtics assistant coach when Robinson played in Boston.
Coaches like the intense Thibodeau normally don't appreciate characters, but Robinson is irresistible.
"I tease coach," Robinson said of Thibodeau. "It seems every shot I take he's mad."
Until they go in during a game like this. Then all Thibodeau can do is shake his head, watch Robinson keep shooting, and let the good times roll.
Robinson was asked recently when the last time was that he feared taking a shot, and he said, "Probably the last time I went to the doctor."
All kidding aside, Robinson is one of the most unusual athletes ever to pass through Chicago. He's listed at 5-feet-9, might be more like 5-feet-7, but his muscles have muscles and his attitude is fearless.
During the first half of this game I nudged the guy next to me, pointed at Robinson and said, "That little (bleep) can play for me anytime."
Later I nudged him again and asked, "Do you think anyone in the league could beat Robinson in a fight."
As Thibodeau said, "I like the way Nate's competing."
That's the word for Robinson: competitor. Put him in a ring with an MMA champion and he'd find a way to hold his own.
The point is that Robinson, merely a Bulls reserve, has a way of attracting attention and make you wonder all sorts of wonderful thoughts about him.
Like right now I'm thinking that if Robinson became immersed in an altercation with Shaquille O'Neal, the big guy would regret messing with the little guy.
Robinson flexed his biceps in the second quarter against the Nets and wound up shoving C.J. Watson onto the scorer's table.
"Just two guys being competitive," Robinson said. "He brings out the best in me."
Oh, so that's what it took for Robinson to embark on a remarkable scoring spree a couple of quarters later.
After the Bulls fell behind 109-95, Robinson scored 12 straight points on the way to 34 points in 28 game minutes.
"That's what Nate is capable of doing," Brooklyn coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "Call him the X factor."
Robinson's scoring binge drew United Center fans back into the game, and the crowd drew the rest of the Bulls into joining them.
"I always think I'm on fire," Robinson said after scorching the nets and the Nets.
Spoken like a true legend, wasn't it?
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