NEW YORK — In Saturday's Game 4 against the Chicago Bulls, Andray Blatche suffered a mild sprain of his calf.
After Monday night's Game 5 against the Chicago Bulls, when it was all said and done, Blatche limped out of the Nets locker room.
But not before he helped his team pull out a 110-91 victory over the Bulls.
And not before he all but carried the Nets to a Game 6 date back in Chicago.
"It's aching a little bit right now," Blatche said of his right calf muscle. "But I'm pretty much good," he added. "I'll get some treatment and I'll be ready for Thursday night."
After witnessing his performance down the stretch of Game 5, that's welcomed news to Nets fans.
With the Chicago Bulls charging in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's season-preserving Nets victory, Barclays Center had witnessed, first hand, what Chicago's United Center saw on Saturday afternoon when the Bulls overcame the Nets in triple overtime.
Tom Thibodeau's team is full of fight and they simply do quit. The same was true on Monday night, but fortunately for the Nets, Blatche came to their rescue.
Though the Nets ended up running away with a 19-point victory over the Bulls, the game was anything but a cakewalk. To his credit, Deron Williams single-handedly ensured that the Nets would not turn in another weak third quarter. He scored 13 of his 23 points in the period and helped the Nets withstand the 29-point third quarter turned in by the Bulls.
But in the fourth, when Williams and Brook Lopez began on the bench, Blatche made key contributions—many of which do not show up on the score sheet.
He played solid defense, grabbed three rebounds, and frustrated the Bulls big men into committing fouls. That is something that often goes overlooked in an NBA game but helps the entire team—especially when teams end up in the penalty early in the period.
Just as impressive as what Blatche did on the court, though, is what he did not do.
After he scored six consecutive points for the Nets early in the period, with 6:56 remaining, he was on the receiving end of a flagrant foul by Marco Bellineli. At that point, the Nets led three points, 87-84.
In years past, Blatche may have wanted to retaliate for the hard foul. But instead, he walked to the free-throw line, hit both of his free-throws, and played some of the more spirited defense we have seen from him all season long.
His two free-throws gave the Nets a five-point lead, and though he only scored one basket from that point forward, his contributions on both ends of the floor forced P.J. Carlesimo to keep him in the game until it was all decided.
Officially, Blatche checked out with 54 seconds remaining in the game, but consider that when he began the fourth quarter, the Nets were winning by just four points, 77-73.
By the time he checked out, the Nets had outscored the Bulls in the fourth, 30-18. In the fourth quarter, with the season on the line, in addition to his four rebounds, he scored 10 points.
In all, Blatche scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds. The numbers do not jump off of the box score at you, but he came up big when it mattered most.
"We are definitely going to need that performance again," Brook Lopez said after the game. "We have all the faith in the world in him and when he gets an opportunity, he takes advantage of it."
When it was all said and done, each Net player had played their part. The fight and desire on hand in Game 5 has appeared sparingly, in flashes. But this type of effort is what makes the Nets believe they can come back and win this series.
"We let one slide away in Chicago," Blatche said after the game. "We didn't have to say much about the other night because we already knew... We knew we had to take care of the ball and get stops."
As for Game 6, the Nets believe they know what it will take to win. "We just gotta remember everything we did tonight," Blatche added.
Game 5 could have been the last game of the season for the Nets, but nobody of Carlesimo's team was ready for that to happen. Addressing the media afterward, Brook Lopez joked that he did not have much a social life and was not ready to face a summer without his teammates.
Blatche's comments were consistent with that. "We didn't want it to end," he said. "Nobody in this locker room wanted it to end, nobody's ready to go home. We still feel like we have an opportunity and a chance to make it to the second round and we're gonna continue to fight to get to that round."
One possession at a time. One rebound at a time. One game at a time.
Though trailing, 3-2. The Nets are still alive.
Everyone pulled their weight, but afterward, it was Blatche walking away with the limp.
He ensured that the Nets would collectively drag themselves back to Chicago.