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Bulls Sun Apr 28 2013

Robinson and Noah Won't Let Bulls Lose

Bulls_200.pngJoakim Noah and Nate Robinson should have no business outdoing their healthier and categorically more talented counterparts in game four. Brook Lopez is averaging 22 and seven a game, and Deron Williams, when he's hot, is one of the best point guards in the NBA. This Bulls team shouldn't be winning a series against a team that's better than them in almost every facet -- all facets except determination and will -- which is the difference maker. To say that Noah is operating at 70 percent of his normal self would be generous and a straight-up lie. Robinson, who's been a non-factor in this entire series, took the game over on offense, which no other Bull seems capable of doing, thus giving the Bulls their only puncher's chance to knockout the Nets in extra periods.

All of this wouldn't have been possible if not for CJ Watson's missed wide open dunk in the fourth quarter. There was less than four minutes to play, the Bulls were down 14, and Watson could have put the nail in the coffin had he just laid the ball in, but as Bulls fans are quite familiar with, Watson doesn't make the best decisions come playoff time.

With seven minutes to play in n the second quarter, beefing point guards Robinson and Watson turned bitter words into a near donnybrook, which earned them a double-technical, forcing Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to send Robinson to the locker room ahead of halftime. Robinson returned in the fourth quarter a focused man, looking to make good on his earlier misjudgment.

Robinson scored 23 points in the fourth, with each shot uglier and more cringeworthy than the last, but most finding the bottom of the net. Robinson was locked in, going 9-for-11 in the final regulation period, hitting two from deep, pulling up a few off-balance midr-ange jumpers, and penetrating the lane effortlessly for a couple. Robinson's game is normally a highlight reel of posturing, posing and circus shots. On Saturday, he was all that, but for once it's what his team absolutely needed. Offensively this game, the Bulls were even more passive than their normal selves. Carlos Boozer had a quiet game compared to his entire series (21 points in 50 minutes). Only Robinson would have had the guts to take 11 shots in the fourth on the comeback trail, of which he was the sole cause. Could you even imagine Luol Deng or Jimmy Butler deciding enough was enough, and that they were going to single-handedly eliminate a double digit lead with four to go? To expect this kind of production from Robinson here on out is prohibitive. Only stars take over games, and luckily the Bulls have a makeshift one who shined brightly this game.

Triple overtime forced Noah over his minutes limit (25-30 minutes). Six personal fouls mercifully forced him out of the game with four minutes to play in the third overtime. Noah was (and will be the rest of the playoffs) laboring on both sides of the court with the weight of the Bulls on his shoulders. This is not a recipe for success when that player carrying his team is doing so on one foot. Noah's game four of 15 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks don't tell the full tale as usual. He didn't overpower Lopez -- not that many could -- but he got the All-Star center out of rhythm in the late stages of the game. As Lopez had the ball with seconds winding down in multiple instances, only three bad foul calls could bail out the Nets big man with Noah stuck on him. Noah is bullying his way for rebounds in the same ostentatious way Dennis Rodman used to. His offensive game seems to be the most affected by his foot. He's shooting 33 percent in this first round match-up, but he's hitting big buckets when given the chance. You quite literally can't ask him to do more, but he's going to anyway, healthy or not. In addition to improving his overall game this season, he's found another gear and it's clearly shifted the series in the Bulls lane.

Noah and Robinson gave the Bulls a chance, and when both fouled out and there was still basketball to be played, Boozer, Deng, and even the less likely Nazr Mohammed stepped and put on the hero capes that the two left behind. In baseball, closer by committee is not a key to sustained success; in this playoff series, the Bulls are taking turns closing out games while not skipping a beat.

Game five is a must win for the Nets, but don't be surprised if the Bulls play the game with the same sense of desperation. The Bulls can't let the inconsistent Nets believe they have a chance to win. Noah knows this, Robinson will shoot as if, and the entire Bulls team must follow suit. The Bulls are still the underdogs this series and the rest of the playoffs. They've overcome every challenge they've faced this year, so one more victory against a team that's better than them is an opportunity to prove themselves again, and that they will do.

 
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