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Updated: May 30, 2013 3:14PM
Tom Thibodeau-coached teams don’t provide bulletin-board material for the opposition.
Sure, there was Joakim Noah’s “Hollywood as hell’’ comment about the Heat after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals two years ago, but Bulls players know the drill: Comments about the opposition means a trip to Thibodeau’s office for a talking-to.
Well, pull up a couple of chairs.
Bulls players privately were hoping to land the Nets in the first round leading into the final week of the regular season, with one player saying off the record, “Not a lot of heart. Watch what happens to them late in close games.’’
Considering what the Bulls did to the Nets in their Game 4 come-from-behind victory in triple-overtime Saturday, there’s no need for such comments to be off the record. The players know that when it comes down to heart, toughness, will and playing team basketball when it matters most, the Nets just aren’t in the same class.
“From my perspective, I think so,’’ Bulls power forward Taj Gibson said, when asked if the Bulls are just a tougher team than the Nets. “I mean, we had a lot of injuries this year. For the last three years we’ve had a lot of injuries, and we’ve always been able to overcome the injuries. We have guys that can step up on any given night and play 48 [minutes], play whatever is needed.
“That’s the difference. We have guys that are ready to step into that moment, and it shows.’’
“That moment’’ the Nets needed guys? Missing in action.
It started with C.J. Watson missing a dunk with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter, which would have put the Nets ahead by 16. Before that miss, Brooklyn had been shooting 60.6 percent from the field. After that dunk? The Nets did what they seem to do best: They shrunk.
Even though they made big shots to send the game to a third overtime, they shot only 8-for-31 (25.8 percent) from the field after Watson’s mistake.
And it wasn’t just how badly they shot it, but how they even ran their offense. Almost every set in the final few minutes of each stanza was an isolation clear-out. Whether it was Deron Williams or Joe Johnson, it was a contrast of two styles — one-on-one against the Bulls’ team ball.
“Just what we wanted,’’ Gibson said. “One thing about the one-on-one talent, it kind of holds the offense and it kind of makes it stagnant. Don’t get me wrong, they have some talented players and made some big shots. But the way we play, we just keep moving as a team. We play together and try and do everything we possibly can to get a guy open, get the best shot. It flourishes.’’
And it flourished, especially in the third overtime. The Bulls outscored the Nets 15-7 in that final overtime, with the scoring coming out of set plays or hustle plays. They basically broke the Nets’ will.
“You’re looking at a team that knows how to fight to the very end, that knows how to keep composure,’’ second-year swingman Jimmy Butler said. “These games are emotional, and we know how to let the emotions kick in as a positive, not a negative. We know at the end of games we’ll make the right decisions.’’
Butler and Gibson acknowledged that winning Game 5 on Monday in Brooklyn would be, as Gibson put it, “hard as hell.’’ But not so much if the Nets go back to isolation-set basketball late in games.
“When it comes to their isos, it’s all about manning up and taking on that challenge,’’ Butler said. “You may be out there on an island, but you damn well have help behind you on this team.’’
That’s the difference in the series. One understands “team’’; the other doesn’t.