Bulls stay close, but Nets stay alive
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From left, Bulls Richard Hamilton, Marquis Teague, Malcolm Thomas, Joakim Noah (13) and Taj Gibson react from the bench in the second half of Monday night's Game 5 loss to the Nets.
NEW YORK — This series has gotten to the point where it's all or nothing.
Either Brooklyn explodes on offense on the way to a 100-point performance or the Bulls' defense squeezes the Nets into a vice grip.
Monday night's Game 5 at the Barclays Center was another offensive outburst. The Nets shot 50 percent from the field, dominated second-chance points (24-12) and stayed alive with a 110-91 victory. The Bulls trailed by 5 points with 4:15 left, then fell apart.
The difference in the series is the Bulls managed to win one of those offensive shootouts Saturday in triple overtime. They'll take a 3-2 lead back to the United Center for Thursday's Game 6.
"We've got to continue to play and do our thing," said Nate Robinson, who started in place of injured Kirk Hinrich. "Just continue to play Chicago basketball, which is tough, nasty and together. We do that, we'll be all right."
A season-long trend for the Bulls has been how they respond well to missing players with injuries — unless it's Hinrich. After Monday's loss, they are 7-16 in games Hinrich skips.
"He's our captain," Robinson said. "That's like Tom Brady going down and somebody else fills in for him. At the same time, you've got to be ready."
There are a couple of specific categories where the Bulls miss Hinrich. One is shot distribution. Robinson had a good game, with 20 points and 8 assists.
But while Robinson took 19 shots (and hit 9), Carlos Boozer got just 8. Too many times, the Bulls settled for outside jumpers when they could have used a post presence.
"We've got to search him out," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Boozer. "Sometimes the game tells you where it's going. If they're giving help to him, we want to play inside-out."
There were other serious problems, though. Nets center Brook Lopez scored 28 points, his best performance of the series. Backup big man Andray Blatche scored 13 points, and even Kris Humphries became a factor by hitting 4 jumpers in the first half.
The most glaring shortcoming was rebounds. Brooklyn finished with a 44-33 edge, including 17-11 on the offensive glass. In the first four games of the series, the Nets averaged 9 offensive rebounds.
"The rebounding was a big problem," Thibodeau said. "Then defensively, we've got to get it together."
Boozer led the Bulls with 10 rebounds. Joakim Noah grabbed 4 in 28 minutes, while Taj Gibson had 1.
"We all have to compete a little bit harder," Noah said. "We got our (butts) kicked on the boards tonight. We're not happy about that. We've got to bounce back."
What's odd about this game is it ended up being a 19-point spread, even though it was relatively close most of way. Jimmy Butler opened the fourth with a 3-pointer to close the gap to 77-76, and it still was a 1-point game with 8:15 left after Marco Belinelli drained a jumper.
But the Bulls didn't get many stops down the stretch and couldn't keep up offensively. After they missed twice while trailing by 3, Belinelli was called for a flagrant foul against Blatche. The call was curious, since Belinelli hacked him on the arm, but it didn't affect the outcome.
"The flagrant, I'll have to look at that, but I don't seem to have a good understanding," Thibodeau grumbled.
The backbreaker came when Noah ran toward Joe Johnson, who didn't have the ball, on defense and ignored Lopez, giving up an easy lay-in and 3-point play to make it 98-90 with 4:01 remaining.
So now, it's up to the Bulls to wrap up the series at home or return to Brooklyn for a Game 7 on Saturday. The Bulls have never lost a playoff series after leading 3-1.
"There is always pressure, but we love that," Boozer said. "That's why we're athletes and compete. I think going home will be good for us."
Added Butler: "On the defensive end, we just made mistakes that we normally don't make because we got away from ourselves. It's very correctable. We know what we have to do next game."
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