NEW YORK — When Chicago Bulls media availability began this morning, point guard Kirk Hinrich entered practice wearing a walking boot. It was the result of a left calf injury he suffered in the first half of Saturday's Game 3, which is remarkable since he played 60 minutes in that game, scoring 18 points and dishing out 14 assists in the triple-overtime thriller.
Hinrich was dejected as he discussed the setback.
“It’s difficult. Nobody wants to miss playoff games," he said. "There’s no question, this is what you look to all year. There’s nothing really I can do at this point, other than just continue to try and improve it every day and see how it goes.”
When asked about playing in Game 6 if the Brooklyn Nets win tonight, Hinrich was uncertain.
"I wish I could tell you. We're just going to treat it like crazy and do everything they tell me to do, and hopefully I won't have to sit out more than one game."
Without Hinrich, coach Tom Thibodeau knows the Bulls are in for an even bigger challenge. “He runs the team," the coach said. "He’s a two-way player. He plays great defense. He’s had a terrific season for us."
Still, Thibodeau remains confident that his team can win, even if shorthanded. "Kirk's missed games during the season, so we've dealt with that before," he said. "The next man has to be ready to get the job done, and that's the way we're going to approach it."
That next man may be Nate Robinson, who is arguably single-handedly responsible for the Bulls winning Game 4. Robinson scorched the Nets for 34 points, including 12 points in the final 3:45 of Game 4 to help send the game to the first of three overtimes.
Robinson may be asked to play a similar role for the Bulls tonight. “It sucks for us, but at the same time, guys who are filling, they got to be ready," Robinson said. "Marco [Belinelli] can play big, Marquis [Teague] can play big, guys stepping in for guys that go down, like myself, so we just have to continue to be ready to play.”
As true as that may be, it should be noted that Belinelli only played four minutes Saturday, and the rookie Teague has yet to play in the series.
With Hinrich out, and the Bulls lacking an experienced primary ball handler outside of Robinson, Deron Williams must aggressively attack the basket and utilize his jump shot, while still getting the post looks for Brook Lopez.
Without the suffocating defense that Hinrich has played on Williams, he must take advantage of the opportunity. In Game 2—the last game the Nets played at Barclays Center—Williams was hounded by Hinrich all night and ended up shooting just 1-for-9 for the game. In the series, he has shot just 26-for-63—41 percent.
Without Hinrich and with the Nets playing an elimination game, the stage has been set for Williams—the franchise player—to come up big. If he is unable to, the Nets may be playing their final game of the season tonight.