It seemed the Brooklyn Nets had this game handled entering the final 3 minutes of the 4th quarter. Possessing a 109-95 lead over the Chicago Bulls, all the Nets had to do was maintain their 14 point advantage. As long as they just continued to execute offensively and pull off a couple more stops defensively, they would even up the series at 2 wins a piece heading into game 5 in their home gym. 3 more minutes. Not to difficult, right?
Apparently for Brooklyn, it was. With 2:53 remaining in regulation, 5'9 point guard Nate Robinson netted a three, and the confidence gained from the conversion allowed Robinson to score 9 more points in a row. The backup point guard, who had only scored 5 points through the first 3 quarters, single-handedly lowered Chicago's deficit to 2 points with his personal 12-0 run. After 12 straight points, power forward Carlos Boozer decided he wanted in on the comeback, converting on a layup with 55 seconds left. All of a sudden, a 14-0 Chicago run had tied the score at 109 in less than 2 minutes, and any hope Brooklyn had of cruising through the end of game 4 completely disappeared. Fortunately for the Nets, center Brook Lopez knocked down two free throws to end Chicago's thrilling scoring tear, but with 23 seconds remaining, Bulls center Joakim Noah tied the score again at 111 by putting back his own miss. Nets point guard Deron Williams missed a jumper and Gerald Wallace had his last second layup attempt swatted by Jimmy Butler, and as a result, the game went into overtime.
Well, the game actually went into 3 overtime periods. The first OT ended on a wild note: after Nate Robinson banked in a floater 22 feet away from the basket to give Chicago a two point lead with 2 seconds left, Brooklyn two guard Joe Johnson drained a floater of his own from 15 feet out to tie the game at 121 and send the game into overtime #2. In the second OT, with the Nets down by 4, Johnson was fouled on a driving floater with 1:13 to play. He was able to convert the shot and knock down the free throw, and as a result, Brooklyn was only down by a single point. On the very next play, Chicago's star of the game, the 5'9 point guard out of Seattle, fouled out as Deron Williams was able to draw a charge. A few seconds later, with 48.7 seconds to go, Brook Lopez was hacked and he netted 1 of 2 from the stripe. No other baskets were made, and the second overtime ended with the score knotted at 127. The third OT sealed Brooklyn's fate: they allowed the Bulls to score 15 points in the 5 minute period while posting only 6 themselves. Chicago seized control in the end, winning the contest 142-134 and obtaining a chance to send Brooklyn packing in game 5.
And the Nets were only 3 minutes away from tying this series up...
Some fantastic individual numbers were achieved by players on both squads tonight. For Chicago, even though his size may not suggest as much, Nate Robinson was HUGE. The point guard finished with 34 points on 14-23 shooting, including 23 points in the 4th quarter alone. With this performance, Robinson set a Chicago record for the most points accumulated in a playoff game by a reserve. Also, his 23 points in the 4th fell one point short of tying the most points in one quarter in the postseason by a Bull's player. Considering the player who scored 24 points in one quarter in a playoff matchup was Michael Jordan, the accomplishment is pretty impressive. In addition to the strong back-up point guard play by Nate, the Bull's current starting pg, Kirk Hinrich, turned in quite a strong performance himself, finishing with 18 points and 14 assists on 7-12. Chicago's bigs, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, combined for 36 points and 21 rebounds (21 and 8 for Boozer, 15 and 13 for Noah), Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng ended with 16 and 15, respectively, and Taj Gibson posted 10 points off the bench.
For the Nets, Deron Williams led the way with 32 points and 10 assists on 11-25. However, while the numbers are exceptional, Williams scored 30 of the points during regulation as he proved to be ineffective through 3 overtimes. All-star Brook Lopez finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds on 9-20, Joe Johnson put up 22 on 10-20, small forward Gerald Wallace posted 17 points and 9 rebounds on 5-9, and the workhorse known as Reggie Evans ended with 15 points and 13 boards on 5-7. After winning game 1 in convincing fashion, Brooklyn now finds itself on the brink of elimination as they have fallen thrice to Chicago and trail 1-3 heading into game 5.
It seems as though a lost lead will end up leading to a lost series.