What a game.
I don’t know if people really properly appreciated it while it was happening. Around the times of the second and third OTs, my Twitter timeline was mostly filled with NBA fans irritated that the game simply refused to end, while TNT simultaneously refused to find another home for the concurrent start of Game Four of the Grizzlies-Clippers series, of which national viewers ended up missing the entire first half. And it’s true that in the grand scheme of things, this game was almost completely inconsequential — barring the miraculous return of You Know Who for a second round series against the Heat, neither of these teams have much chance of surviving to the conference finals, thus making it more of a curious footnote to these playoffs, an amusing distraction amidst the actually important dramas of the first round.
Still. You won’t see a zanier, more entertaining, and in all likelihood, more unforgettable game for the remainder of this postseason than Game Four of Bulls-Nets, and probably won’t for a couple more to follow, either. By my estimation, it’s the best game we’ve seen in the first round of the playoffs since 2009, when the Bulls played the Celtics in a series that had three or four games as good as this, because that was the greatest playoff series ever. (Thibs was even asked in the postgame conference if this game reminded him of that series; unsurprisingly, he denied any such connection and looked pissed that the question had even been asked.) I gasped, I screamed, I jumped out of my seat so many times eventually I just kept standing. It was awesome.
Because there’s a chance that the team that wins the series — probably the Bulls, though I wouldn’t count out the Nets just yet — ends up getting blanked in the second round, and then NBA lore forgets about the game altogether, I wanted to make sure that there’s at least some sort of historical record of all the crazy crap that went down between the Nets and Bulls on Saturday. Here are the 10 things that’ll stick in my mind the most about this game.
10. The final score was Bulls 142, Nets 134.
Even though it was inflated with the three OTs, let’s not lose sight of how bizarre it was for so many points to be scored in this game, especially considering that the last contest between the Bulls and Nets ended at 79-76. The teams combined for 121 more points this time around, in just 15 minutes of bonus action. Even by the end of regulation, with the two teams knotted at 111-111, they had already outscored their combined total from Game Three by 67.
I saw the final score of this one flash across my screen a couple times on the TNT and ESPN tickers while I was watching the later games, and pictured how much my mind would be blown to see that final score for the first time completely out of context. Pretty hard to imagine.
9. In a game where five other players fouled out, Brook Lopez somehow ended up getting whistled just three times.
I didn’t even notice this until well after the fact. Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah all fouled out for the Bulls in this one — meaning Nazr Mohammed was playing crunch time in the third OT, actually making a couple game-saving plays, an Honorable Mention crazy thing from this game — as did Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans for the Nets. Yet Brook Lopez, the Nets’ seven-foot rim protector, who not only led the game in blocks (along with Noah) but leads the entire league for the playoffs with his 4.3 rejections per contest, plays 51 minutes and still ends with three fouls to give? How the hell is that possible?
Of course, most Bulls fans would protest that Lopez actually committed far more than three personals over the course of the game, but that referee Tony Brothers just wouldn’t blow the whistle on them. One no-call on a possible Joakim Noah and-one towards the end of the first overtime seemed particularly egregious, with Lopez clearly raking Noah across BOTH arms, and Noah seemed to draw enough contact from Lopez on a last-second drive in the second OT to get to the line as well. You’d think the home team would be the one to get the preferential treatment in a game like this, but the Nets got whistled eight fewer times than the Bulls over the course of this one, and Lopez didn’t get whistled once over three OTs, until an intentional end-of-game foul on Marco Belinelli. Bizarre.
8. Joe Johnson hit one of the most anti-climactic buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen.
$20 million plus is a lot to pay per year for a designated clutch shooter, but you can’t really argue with the production Joe Johnson has given the Nets this year in that department. He filled the role with aplomb again on Saturday against the Bulls, hitting two shots in the final 30 seconds of the first overtime — the last as the clock expired — to send the game to double OT, scoring more over the course of the three extra periods than he did in the first 48 minutes.
But that buzzer-beater shot was weird. It came just after Nate Robinson’s insane running 20-foot banker for the Bulls which seemed to be a game-winner, leaving just two seconds on the clock. And then Joe Johnson just got the ball at the top of the key, probed into the lane a little, and put up a 12-foot floater for the game-tying bucket, which he hit easily. There was shockingly little defensive resistance on the play — defender Jimmy Butler got slowed a tiny bit by a Brook Lopez semi-screen, then took too wide an angle to cut off Johnson, allowing him to drive into the lane uncontested, with Joakim Noah stepping in far too late as a help defender to do anything to affect his shot. It was like the team wasn’t really that scared of Joe Johnson taking the final shot, which is very strange, considering that’s just about all Joe Johnson does these days.
After the dramatic unlikeliness and sheer hilarity of NateRob’s go-ahead bucket, which really would have been the most fitting way for this game to end, it couldn’t have been much more of a buzzkill close to that second OT period. It was like finishing a perfect karaoke night with an awesome room-wide singalong of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” only to have one of your friends insist on putting on a Ben Folds Five song immediately after.
7. Nate Robinson vs. C.J. Watson became a real thing that happens.
I love absolutely everything about this feud. I love that nobody really knows why it started. I love that it keeps escalating every game for no particular reason. I especially love that in a series filled with some of the biggest, toughest, most bruising players in the NBA, the only genuine animosity seems to be these two yappy, streaky short guys. That animosity spilled over, somewhat literally, into Saturday’s game, when a Nate-CJ shove-fight went onto and over the scorer’s bench, resulting in technicals for both players, even though Watson didn’t really do anything but make NateRob see red by giving him a typical “hey, get off me” bump. I worried at the time it would result in at least Robinson getting ejected — given how events unfolded, the Nets (and C.J. in particular) probably really, really wish he had been.
The underrated thing about this feud is that C.J. Watson basically was in the exact position on the Bulls last year as Nate Robinson is this year, having to step up as the team’s primary scoring guard in the absence of Derrick Rose. And unlike Robinson, Watson absolutely belly-flopped in that role in last year’s playoffs, averaging seven points a game on 24 percent (!!!) shooting. If he had played even a fraction as well last year for the Bulls as Nate is this year, they almost certainly would have avoided getting “upset” by the Sixers in the first round. Don’t know why Nate would care about that, necessarily, but you can never guess where the great ones will derive motivation from, right?
6. Deron Williams disappeared.
Extra basketball periods can really screw with previously existing game narratives. Before the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, it seemed for sure like this was gonna be a Too Much Deron Williams game, where D-Will just overwhelmed the Bulls with his scoring and decision-making, and demonstrating again that even though the Bulls might be the tougher, better-coached team, the talent disparity between the two with Derrick Rose out would eventually sway the series back towards the Nets’ favor. With three minutes to go in the fourth, Deron Williams had 30 points on 10-17 shooting with nine assists, an incredible bounce-back game after his subpar Games Two and Three in the series.
Unfortunately for Deron, it turned out he still had 18 minutes to go in this one. For those 18 minutes, Deron scored just two points on 1-5 shooting, with just one assist, as the world crumbled around him for the remainder of regulation, and as Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez battled to keep the Nets afloat in overtime. Suddenly, Too Much Deron Williams became Hey When Did We Run Out of Deron Williams? Ultimately, the game provided yet more evidence for both the pro and con arguments for Deron Williams, NBA Superstar, further cementing D-Will’s status as one of the league’s most perplexing talents.
5. The United Center crowd disappeared.
Not literally, as the stands still looked packed into the third OT, though I can’t wait to hear the testimonials from fans that checked out late in the fourth quarter and missed one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history, But as the game went on and the thrill of the fourth quarter’s unlikely turnaround turned into the slog of a four-hour, triple-overtime basketball game, the crowd seemed to run out of gas, and by the third overtime period, fan intensity was back at Regular Season Against the Bobcats level. Fans can only take so much playoff excitement in one game, it would seem.
It was especially weird because the United Center has long established itself as one of the great crowds in the NBA, probably a top four or five home base in the whole league when it gets properly hyped, as it did in that regular season game against the Heat, one of the great home crowd showings in recent memory. If it can happen in Chicago, I guess it can happen anywhere. Pace yourself over these dramatic fourth quarters, NBA fanbases. You never know when you’re gonna be called upon for some bonus cheering.
4. Marv Albert disappeared.
When it seemed things couldn’t get any nuttier in this game, Marv Albert disappeared on the call for a good minute or so coming out of a commercial break in the multi-OT, leaving Steve Kerr to briefly handle play-by-play duties. Marv rushed back into the frame before too much damage was done — I might not even have noticed had Twitter not been freaking out with theories about what happened to him (Royce Young’s hypothesis that Marv had become the latest in the game to foul out was probably the best, and in this game, it wouldn’t have even been that surprising) — and jokingly claimed he had just left to get a sandwich, which Kerr seemed to accept as explanation enough.
We may never truly know what happened with Marv over those 60 seconds, and it’s probably more beautiful that way.
3. Brook Lopez hit a turnaround three from 30 feet to end the third quarter.
It seemed like this was how it was going to go for the Nets on Saturday. Nate Robinson tries to save a ball going out of bounds by throwing it off of C.J. Watson (or maybe totally forgets time and place and just decides to spike C.J. with a Spalding), ends up missing Watson and throwing the ball right to Brook Lopez, who takes a turnaround three to beat the shot clock from at least five feet behind the arc. Swish. His first three-pointer EVER. Even Tim Duncan had hit 20-something of ‘em by the time he hit that Are You Kidding Me dagger trey against the Suns in 2008.
To make matters worse, Lopez didn’t even have to shoot it. The shot-clock had reset on NateRob’s save, and Brook had about five seconds left in the quarter to find a shot that there was some historical precedent of him hitting. But instead, he shot and drilled the panic three, putting the Nets up eight going into the fourth.
When Brook Lopez hit that miracle shot, you could tell it just wasn’t going to be the Bulls’ afternoon. Until, of course, it was.
2. Nate Robinson turned into a ball of fire.
With all the major players injured, and all the relatively uncelebrated players stepping up to slot in their place, it’s looking more and more like this is going to be the postseason of the Unlikely Hero. Nate Robinson probably won’t be the least likely of these, but he might very well end up the most heroic, scoring twelve consecutive, unanswered points in less than two fourth quarter minutes, with 23 total points in the should-have-been-final frame, as well as a handful of huge overtime buckets, ending with 34 before fouling out in the final OT. In the annals of great fourth quarter performances in NBA playoff history, Sleepy Floyd, Isiah Thomas and Reggie Miller will now all have to make room for the Nate Robinson Game.
And truthfully, when you get over the initial shock of actually watching it happen, is it really that surprising? Wasn’t Nate Robinson destined to have an eponymous game at some point in his career? The only real surprise is that Nate Robinson’s contributions to the Nate Robinson Game were almost 100 percent positive, and not the combination of sublime, ridiculous and ultimately head-smacking that usually represents the Nate Robinson experience. Not to say that there weren’t ridiculous and/or head-smacking moments from Nate in this one — the previously mentioned fight with C.J. Watson and save to an open Brook Lopez certainly rank as one or both — but when people remember KryptoNate’s performance in this one, all they will remember is the quarter he spent on the United Center floor as the Lord of Light.
Remember when the Bulls were gonna cut Nate Robinson to get out of his non-guaranteed contract and avoid paying the luxury tax? Yeah. Huh.
1. The Brooklyn Nets pulled off the biggest single-game choke job we may ever see in the NBA postseason.
For most, Saturday’s game will be forever about how Nate Robinson led the Bulls to an incredible victory. For me, the true awesomeness of the game will never be derived from how the Bulls won it as much as how the Nets lost it.
Now, before I get into this, the Nets have to be given minor credit for continuing to fight in this game after witnessing the wrath of Nate Robinson’s fugue state, hitting some big shots and pushing the game to three overtimes before the Bulls’ momentum finally overwhelmed them.
But you have to understand: The Nets had this game WON. Their victory was a certainty. A computer simulation would’ve given them the win 99,999 times out of 100,000, and that one other outcome probably would’ve been an earthquake or blimp attack cutting the game short. There was zero chance of the Bulls coming back to win in this game.
So certain was the outcome of this one that when I saw C.J. Watson breaking away for an uncontested dunk with the Nets already up 14 and with only 3:15 to go — and I was catching up on DVR with about a 10-minute lag before real time — I decided I would just fast forward to the end of this one. I never do that with playoff games. I even watched all four fourth quarters of Spurs-Lakers, and a couple of those were far done-er far earlier than this one. But I knew the game was over, and it was bumming me out to see the Bulls get murked at home, so I figured I’d just skip to the final.
I stopped the fast forwarding when I saw that the lead had quickly and mysteriously shrunk to nine, and out of morbid curiosity, I watched C.J. Watson blow the surest two points that any player will get these playoffs.
Then, I watched Reggie Evans brick two free throws, and Nate Robinson drill a three and convert a tough layup to cut the lead by five. Still, it wasn’t until after Gerald Wallace also went 0-2 at the line (on an inspired hack decision by Tom Thibodeau), Nate hit a double-clutch jumper to cut it to seven, Wallace got called on a charge, and Nate got fouled by Deron Williams behind the three-point arc, that I actually thought the Bulls would have a chance to win this. When Deron blew a layup and Nate hit his final jumper of the quarter to cut the lead to two, a Bulls win that seemed impossible suddenly seemed all but inevitable.
So yeah, if you’re keeping score at home, this was the tally for the Nets between the time I started fast-forwarding and Nate’s final points of the quarter: One blown breakaway dunk, four consecutive missed free throws, one offensive foul, one foul from behind the three-point line, and zero points scored. And it wasn’t like this was over the course of a quarter. This entire sequence took a grand total of 2:05 of game time. It was an absolutely epic late game collapse, one that probably wouldn’t be so well remembered had it not happened to coincide with Nate Robinson learning to warp time and space, but one that I find even more incredible than NateRob’s bending of the spoon.
Plenty more incredible things will happen over the course of these playoffs. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry will continue to have their own moments of clarity. The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs will likely continue to roll through opponents with disturbing precision and minimal emotional investment, though the Warriors and Bulls, should they both advance to meet them, will probably give them a classic fight or two each. And it seems a decent bet that at least one star player will change a series by making a surprise return from injury. But when the sun sets on the 2013 postseason, no game will burn on in my memory like this one. I don’t see how any could.
Don’t front, Thibs. This was 2009 all over again, for sure.