A short-handed Chicago Bulls squad fell at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday to set up Saturday’s Game 7 at the Barclays Center. With the status of two starters still up in the air, the Bulls face an uphill battle on the road if they hope to advance to the Eastern Conference semis.
For Chicago to pull out the win, Tom Thibodeau will need his team to follow these four steps:
1. Let Nate be Nate
Nate Robinson can be an immensely frustrating player for a coach. He’s so emotion-driven that bad shots and bad fouls are just part of the package when he’s put in a significant role.
However, Robinson’s scoring has saved the Bulls throughout this series, and Chicago can’t hope to get enough offense to win without another big game from the little point guard. Thibodeau will need to show patience with Robinson’s antics in order to reap the benefits of his explosive three-point shooting.
2. Get as much as possible from Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich
Both Luol Deng (possible meningitis) and Kirk Hinrick (calf) could be out again after missing Game 6 at the United Center. If either starter manages to battle his way onto the court, though, Chicago needs to take advantage as best it can.
Hinrich’s floor leadership will be a great antidote to Robinson’s sometimes-suspect decision-making, and he’ll add a much needed scoring option (if he can go). Deng, too, would be a huge boost to the offense—even if he’s limited in how long he can go—not least because of the matchup problems he causes for Gerald Wallace and the Nets.
3. Get back to feeding Carlos Boozer
After four outstanding offensive games, Carlos Boozer has seen the spotlight drift away from him in Games 5 and 6 (both Bulls losses). Boozer is a terrible matchup for either Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries, and that’s an asset Chicago can’t afford to keep ignoring.
Even if Marco Belinelli gets hot again as he did in Game 6, Chicago needs to establish Boozer early and keep feeding him. If the sweet-shooting PF is held under 20 points, the Bulls have almost no chance to win on Saturday.
4. Lock down Joe Johnson
Banged-up Joe Johnson has been the X-factor for the Brooklyn offense in this series. Where the Nets have been able to count on big scoring efforts from Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, Johnson has been much more up-and-down.
Chicago’s best hope for a Game 7 win is a defensive struggle (Game 4’s triple-OT shootout notwithstanding). If Johnson gets in an offensive rhythm, he can shoot the Bulls right out of the game in a matter of minutes.