Five games are in the books and the Nets are exactly where they didn’t want to be: on the verge of elimination heading back to Chicago despite an impressive all-around performance in Game Five to keep the season alive.
The Nets knew their fate after losing Game Two at home — they would have to steal a game in Chicago. That road victory seemed all but sealed when there was just over three minutes left in Saturday’s matinee. Brooklyn led by 14 points and was in complete control. C.J. Watson stood all alone under the Bulls’ basket without a defender within a half court of him, and it seemed the Nets were poised to stretch the lead to 16 and return to Brooklyn triumphant. Then, the all-too-obvious happened to long-suffering Nets’ fan: he missed the dunk. Sure, that didn’t lose them the game, but it certainly felt like a lid was placed over the Nets basket shortly thereafter.
But what did lead to the loss? Simply put, the Nets couldn’t contain … Nate Robinson. When they doubled-up on him, he wisely passed out, often resulting in a lay up. He hit open shots, shots over Deron Williams, got into the lane, and created the havoc that defines his game.
So did the Nets choke, or was Nate Robinson just unstoppable?
It was three minutes of Robinson catching fire and three minutes of the Nets crashing and burning.
But as we saw on Monday night, these Brooklyn Nets are more the capable of taking control of a game late. With a tight match in the fourth, Andray Blatche and Brook Lopez combined to put the game out of the Bulls reach.
If the Nets want to have a chance to extend the series further and potentially win it at home, Lopez has to continue to be a consistent force. His teammates went away from him late in Game Four, often settling for contested jump shots.
Along with Lopez, Blatche adds an offensive dimension that Reggie Evans can’t. And even when he’s not scoring, he is keeping Bulls’ defenders honest to the point where they need to guard more than only three guys. Even in losses, it’s no coincidence that the Nets play their best basketball when Blatche is on the floor.
But perhaps the biggest question facing the Nets in the remainder of the series is which Gerald Wallace will show up? The Games One, Four and Five Wallace showed confidence in his offensive game. In Games Two and Three his only mistake was showing up at all.
If all three men can play the way they did on Monday night, after Game Six, they the Bulls will be saying, “Hello, Brooklyn” for a last time.
Tom Lafe is a 6-foot-5 sports-world insider with a middling high school basketball career who believes the Nets will be driven by the success of the team’s big men.