After flattening the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first round playoff series on Saturday night, the Nets could not match the intensity of the Bulls and dropped Game 2, 90-82.
The Nets could not match the intensity of Tom Thibodeau's resilient bunch, and ultimately, the game was decided not in the third quarter, but in the final 7:39 of regulation.
At the half, the Nets trailed 47-46 after getting 14 points from Brook Lopez on 6-of-9 shooting from the field.
He was the only Net that had it going through the game's first 24 minutes, though, as Deron Williams and Joe Johnson combined to shoot just 3-of-9 in the game's opening half.
In the third, it was a familiar—but unwelcome sight for Nets fans—as their team came out looking tired and uninspired. As a team, the Nets shot just 2-of-19 in the quarter and trailed by 12 after three, 69-57.
P.J. Carlesimo began the fourth with C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, Joe Johnson, Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche, and after falling behind by as many as 14 points early in the fourth, the aforementioned five man unit managed to piece together a 9-0 run, and the Bulls lead was cut to just five points.
And he certainly outplayed Williams, who ended the night a miserable 1-of-9 from the field with just eight points.
Even more admirable was that Noah did so on one healthy foot.
Williams attempted just one shot in the fourth—a miss. His lone make of the game came in the third quarter and in the grand scheme of things, it was meaningless. Even more so, it was the antithesis of the effort and passion Williams played with in Game 1, where Williams led the Nets steamrolling of the Bulls. He had 22 points and seven assists in the 106-89 victory.
Monday night? A different story.
What a difference 48 hours makes.
Monday night's performance was somewhat inexplicable, and afterward, Williams had trouble putting his finger on the lackluster effort.
"They definitely were the aggressor this game," Williams said. "They had more energy than us, and they just played better than us. We didn't get stops."
"I didn't play well. I'm not going to play like this again. We said we needed to come out and play the same way as Game 1, play with the same desperation, but we didn't."
All things considered, the Bulls are a very good basketball team. And if the Nets are to advance, it will probably be after a long, tough series. The loss is not disconcerting—especially since the Nets are an above average road team capable of winning at least one game in Chicago—it is Williams' propensity to go through stretches without putting his fingerprints on a game.
He did not play, that's true.
The man who did, was Joakim Noah.
Despite the fact that coach Thibodeau refuses to rule Derrick Rose out for the remainder of this series, Noah has emerged as the most talked about Bulls player over the past few days. And on Monday night, he emerged as the best player on the floor when the game was hanging in the balance.
With the Nets on a 9-0, Noah reentered the game and made many plays down the stretch—some showed up in the box score and some did not. He battled Andray Blatche, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries for loose balls, contested shots, grabbed rebounds and seemingly wanted it more than every other player.
"I just found a way," Noah said afterward. "I was just trying to effect the game. Protect the rim. Just find a way. I wasn't really thinking too much, I was just hooping. I was trying to make plays and trying to get the win."
Over the game's final 7:39, he did just that.
During that stretch, Noah scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and—with less than a minute remaining—blocked a Lopez layup that C.J. Watson tipped out of bounds. The game was sealed and the Bulls went on to the 90-82 victory.
For Noah, coming up big in Game 2 meant a lot since he was barely able to play in Game 1. Being a native New Yorker, though, made the victory at Barclays even sweeter.
"No question about it," he said with a beaming smile after he was asked if it felt good to win in Brooklyn. "Just being able to play in the playoffs is something that I will never take for granted and being able to do it in front of my loved ones and my family is something that is really special to me."
Now, as the series moves to Chicago, tied 1-1, the Bulls hope to seize the momentum in Thursday's Game 3.
With this Noah, it is certainly possible.
After going 23-18 on the road this season, the Nets have proven that they are capable of winning on another team's floor. Now, they will have an opportunity to prove that they can do so in an intense playoff atmosphere. And stealing home court advantage from the Nets is something that Noah thinks can help his team immensely.
"It's a whole other ballgame out there," he said of Chicago. "It's not even comparable. [Brooklyn] is a great place to play basketball, but these are new fans here. They've been doing this for a long time over there in Chicago."
"It's gonna be a battle. We'll be ready, they'll be ready. They'll make their adjustments. This is playoff basketball and this is what it's all about."
Now, we will see if the Nets are up to the challenge.