NEW YORK — If the Bulls are going to win their best-of-seven, first-round series against the Nets, they’re going to have to follow the lead of Joakim Noah.
You know, block out the pain and try to battle through.
On a Saturday night where Noah gritted his teeth to play 13 minutes, 27 seconds through plantar fasciitis in his right foot, the Nets inflicted all sorts of hurt on the Bulls. In Brooklyn’s first major sports professional playoff event since the 1956 World Series, the Nets ran the Bulls off the sparkling Barclays Center court in a 106-89 blowout.
Kirk Hinrich exited late in the third quarter with a bruised left thigh after running into a Reggie Evans screen. Since 1946-47, the team that has won Game 1 of a best-of-seven series has prevailed 77.9 percent of the time. Game 2 is here Monday night.
“The thing that makes the playoffs unique is you’re playing the same team over and over,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to have a lot of toughness. When you face adversity, you have to be able to push through.”
Deron Williams’ 22 points (seven assists) led six Nets in double figures, including strong bench performances from Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson. Brook Lopez added 21 points. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with a game-high 25 points.
The Nets never trailed after Williams’ driving layup gave them a 4-2 lead just less than two minutes after tipoff. That basket proved contagious. The Nets spent more time in the paint than Jackson Pollock and enjoyed a 56-36 advantage in that category.
How bad did it get? At halftime, the Nets led by 25 and scored more points in the paint with 40 than the Bulls did overall at 35.
The carnage started early. The Nets led by 11 in the first quarter, scoring 10 points off turnovers. In the second, with Noah already out after a mere 6:25 stint, Taj Gibson exited with three fouls. That’s one way to handle a minutes limit for a player recovering from a sprained MCL in his left knee.
An extremely active Gerald Wallace spectacularly blocked Jimmy Butler’s dunk attempt, leading to a Watson 3-pointer and 20-point lead. A Marco Belinelli turnover led to Watson’s breakaway layup and a 22-point Nets’ lead.
Other than Hinrich missing a free throw for a technical foul on the Nets’ illegal defense, the Bulls didn’t attempt free throws until Belinelli sank two with 1:53 left in the half.
The Nets shot 80 percent in the second quarter. That’s not a misprint. No wonder Thibodeau burned a timeout early in the third and blistered his team with a tirade.
As for Noah, he finished with four points, five rebounds and one block one day after glumly assessing his chances to play in Game 1. He tested his injury at the morning shootaround and doctors cleared him to play.
“I’m feeling a little better,” Noah said. “I just want to help the team as much as I can.”
Noah’s contributions were more symbolic than statistical.
“He hasn’t had a problem playing nor after the game,” Thibodeau said. “It’s more the next day where the soreness comes into play. It’s the type of injury where you don’t know how he’s going to feel the next day.
“He has had it before. He has dealt with it. We just have to see how he is (Sunday).”
By KC Johnson, Tribune Reporter