Brooklyn passes major "gut" check in Game 5, forces series back to Chicago
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It's quite possible that the Nets learned more about themselves during what was by far the most devastating playoff loss in franchise history than at any other point during their historic first season in our fair borough.
After suffering through a mind-numbing, heartbreaking Game 4 collapse in Chicago, during which it squandered a seemingly safe 14-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation before limping off the United Center floor with a gutwrenching triple-overtime defeat, Brooklyn bounced back in courageous fashion Monday evening before another Blacked Out sellout crowd at Downtown's Barclays Center.
Whether it was Joe Johnson draining a pair of game-tying jump shots on one good leg in the first overtime of Saturday's devastating 142-134 defeat, or the news that circulated afterward that the Bulls thought the Nets were "gutless and hearless", our borough's first major pro sports franchise since the beloved Dodgers fled to Los Angeles in 1957 was not yet ready to say Goodbye Playoffs.
''I believed that we would respond,'' Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo insisted amid reports that his job status likely hung on the outcome of this best-of-7 first-round series. ''We've bounced back all year too well, and as disheartening a loss as that was on Saturday, there's still been enough good minutes in this series. Neither of us are getting away from each other.''
Carlesimo went so far as to play a video of a Chicago beat reporter intimating to the nation that the Bulls were happy to draw the Nets in Round one, claiming Brooklyn might lack the intestinal fortitude to stay the course in what promised to be a grind-it-out battle for the right to face the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Deron Williams, the Nets' $98 million point guard and undisputed floor leader, scoffed at the notion that the Bulls' questioning of his teammates drive and desire was what precipitated Brooklyn to a convincing 110-91 triumph in Game 5.
"Every game is an elimination game. Every game is the most important game from here on out," stated Williams, who scored 23 points and handed out 10 assists in Brooklyn's first ever win-or-go-home game before the home faithful. "What were we supposed to do [after watching the video]? Get mad? We knew we had to win this game."
Angered or not, the Nets, to a man, gave everything they had in Game 5.
All-Star center Brook Lopez continued to elevate his status as arguably the best big man in the NBA, pouring in a game-high 28 points and ripping 10 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass.
Reserve pivotman Andray Blatche put up 13 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, as Brooklyn finally pulled away from the pesky Bulls, who were without injured point guard Kirk Heinrich.
Even C.J. Watson, who gained Bill Buckner-like infammy for missing a wide-open dunk that could have sunk Chicago in Game 4, showed great reslience off the bench with 11 points and four rebounds in 23 effective minutes.
Johnson, still dealing with the plantar fasciatis that has limited his explosiveness, hit 5-of-11 attempts from the floor en route to 11 points while logging what had to be a painful 39 minutes.
All in all, Brooklyn proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had put the brutal Game 4 loss in the rear-view mirror quicker than you can say Nate Robinson, who burned the Nets for 20 points and eight assists Monday night, but couldn't provide the final dagger to their swelling-with-pride hearts.
''We feel like we're the better team,'' a defiant Gerald Wallace said after capping a 12-point effort with a game-clinching 3-pointer and steal and dunk late in the fourth quarter. ''We've just got to play a 48-minute game completely and stay in attack mode.''
Wallace also suggested that the pressure in the series is now shifted back to the Chi-Towners, who let the resilient Nets off the ropes in Game 5.
With a win in the Windy City on Thursday night, Brooklyn will get a shot to come home for the first Game 7 in our fair borough since Game 6 of the 1956 World Series, when the Dodgers were vanquished by the hated Yankees.
Borough residents who have waited upwards of a half-century for a team to call their own don't have to hang their heads in shame over the next 48 hours as they wait and hope the Nets force the epic series back to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
"We weren't ready to go home," said Brooklyn rebounding machine Reggie Evans after copping 12 of the Nets' 44 caroms in Game 5.
Chicago managed only 33 rebounds, and was outhustled and outmuscled in virtually every aspect of the game over the final 12 minutes.
"That was the difference in the game right there," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau lamented. "The rebounding was it. When you give a team a second and third crack at scoring, it's hard to win that way. ... I think they were quicker to the ball, right from the start of the game and that never changed throughout. We have to get things corrected. I'm disappointed by the way we played. We all have to do better. They played the fourth quarter at a different intensity level."
Now the Nets have an opportunity to display the type of passion and poise that helped them accumulate the most road victories in team history.
Even more importantly, they get another shot to show the Bulls the "heart" and "guts" they were suspected of lacking entering the series.
Hoop du Jour: The Bulls are 12-0 all-time when leading a playoff series three games to one. Also, only eight of 210 teams who have previously faced a 3-1 series deficit have gone on to advance. ... There was major buzz around the sporting world Monday with former Net center Jason Collins' announcement that he was gay. Brooklyn GM Billy King issued the following statement prior to Game 5: “Jason Collins was a vital member of the New Jersey Nets for six and a half years, and as an executive with a competing NBA team, I always respected the standard he set for team play and the example he set for the league in playing with integrity and purpose. He exemplifies everything we look for in players, and for those players and associates within our organization, our primary focus is creating the most accepting and respectful environment for everyone to succeed.” Lopez, who attended Stanford with Collins, added: "It's an honor for me to call Jason Collins a friend. I admire his dignity as well as his courage to come out. I'll always have his back." ... Lest we forget, the soon-to-be Brooklyn Islanders are also opening their first playoff series since 2007 in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night against the top-seeded Penguins. Several Islanders showed their support for their future co-tenants by sitting courtside during Game 5 at Barclays Center. ''The future is bright,'' Islanders veteran defenseman Mark Streit said. ''There are a lot of young guys on the team and there is a veteran presence, as well, so it's a good mix. The future in Brooklyn looks great, as well." The Islanders signed a 25-year agreement play in Downtown Brooklyn beginning in 2015, but if they get out of their lease a year or two early, they could be skating at the Barclays Center sooner than expected.
Read Thursday's Brooklyn Eagle or check back here Wednesday afternoon for a full preview of Game 5 in Chicago