The Chicago Bulls have a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series as they host the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. After an ugly defensive win in Game 3, Tom Thibodeau’s team would be happy with more of the same as they try to outslug Brook Lopez and company.
These four players will have huge roles in determining which team comes out on top at the United Center in Game 4:
MarShon Brooks, Nets
Jerry Stackhouse was useless off the bench on Thursday, and P.J. Carlesimo absolutely must have some offensive weapons to throw out there when Lopez or Deron Williams sits. Brooks is a pure scorer, and while he didn’t cover himself with glory in Game 3, he didn’t look as lost as Stackhouse, either.
At 6’5”, Brooks has the size and athleticism to make Chicago’s Jimmy Butler work on defense. The less Butler can drift around double-teaming and jumping into passing lanes, the better off Brooklyn will be.
Nazr Mohammed, Bulls
Joakim Noah is playing his heart out in this series, but it’s impossible to watch him (especially in the fourth quarter) without realizing that his plantar fasciitis is still causing him serious pain. The more rest he can get, the better, and that hope relies above all on veteran reserve Mohammed.
The aging big man is coming off a fine performance in Game 3, leading the Bulls’ bench with six boards and scoring five points in the bargain. If he can continue to hold his own against the speedier Nets post players, he’ll steal valuable minutes for Noah to rest that foot.
C.J. Watson, Nets
When Brooklyn won the series opener, backup PG C.J. Watson scored 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting. In two games since, he’s totaled 12 points while shooting 5-for-17.
A Nets team with very few individual offensive weapons is even shorter on scoring with Joe Johnson hobbled. If Brooklyn is to crack the ironclad Bulls defense on the road, Watson must play a central role in the offense, as a scorer as well as a distributor.
Carlos Boozer, Bulls
As amazing as Chicago’s defense is, eventually the Bulls have to score some points, too. Boozer did that in spades on Thursday night, tying for the game-high with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting.
Boozer also played uncharacteristically good defense in Game 3, grabbing 15 of his 16 boards on that end. If he's anywhere near as dialed-in on Saturday as he was in the first game at the United Center, the Nets are in trouble.