Brooklyn Nets' Jekyll and Hyde Stars Give Chicago Bulls 1st-Round Momentum

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2013

Brooklyn's finest? Not on Monday night.
Brooklyn's finest? Not on Monday night.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In the first-ever playoff game at Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets sent both their billionaire owner and their fans home happy with a domineering 106-89 victory. They were up by 25 at halftime and looked poised to run the Chicago Bulls right out of the playoffs.

Then Game 2 happened. The wheels fell off Brooklyn's bus as they got smoked in the third quarter, 22-11. And as the final seconds ticked off a 90-82 defeat, they realized home-court advantage had vanished right before their eyes.

Deron Williams should be put on a milk carton after this loss. He drew a three-shot foul in the game's final minute and looked somewhat vexed at the free-throw line.

He hit two of the three foul shots, bringing him to eight points for the night. Eight points. If it weren't for Williams shooting 1-of-9 from the field, Brooklyn would likely have a 2-0 advantage.

Brook Lopez has excelled with 21 points in each game on 14-of-29 shooting overall; he has also swatted six shots this postseason.

Joe Johnson followed up his 16 points in Game 1 with a 17-point night on Monday, but he struggled mightily from the field (6-of-18) and only got to the foul line twice.

D-Will was the goat for Brooklyn, but no player managed a double-double. The Nets shot only 35.4 percent from the field, overall, and 4-of-21 from three-point range.

Meanwhile, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah each notched double-doubles, with Noah's coming in just over 25 minutes. Chicago's nine-man rotation ran Brooklyn ragged, and their starting forwards outscored Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace, 28-6.

In defense of D-Will, it should be stated that Wallace was pretty awful, too, but this is Williams' team, and he stunk up his home building on Monday night. 

But it wasn't all the Nets' fault.

The resurgence of Noah spells big trouble for Brooklyn. Chicago was dominated in Game 1 as Noah played only 13 minutes, but he still notched four points, five boards, an assist, a steal and a block.

He nearly doubled his minutes in Game 2, which is somewhat incredible, considering the potential severity of his plantar fasciitis injury. Noah had 11 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. He also made a number of great hustle plays to stifle any hopes of a Nets comeback. 

Brooklyn trailed by just four points at the three-minute mark, but Noah powered the Bulls to a crucial road win. He scored five points and snagged three rebounds in the final two minutes.

Chicago also got a helpful smattering of points from their backcourt to buoy the offense. Kirk Hinrich started and scored 13, Nate Robinson had 11 and Marco Belinelli finished with eight. Even Nazr Mohammed scored eight points and Taj Gibson scored six in 10 minutes.

Getting 33 points off the bench is a great shot in the arm for a team that can look offensively challenged at times. Chicago ranked 24th in points scored per 100 possessions and 29th in effective field-goal percentage during the regular season (per ESPN).

Now the series swings to Chicago, knotted up at one game apiece. Oddly, the Bulls had the second-worst road record of any Eastern Conference playoff team at 24-17. Brooklyn will be eager to avenge their flat performance in Game 2, but Chicago has seized all the momentum. 

Obviously, Williams will have to score more than eight points, but he did dish 10 assists in Game 2, so there's nothing wrong with his vision. Lopez will continue to provide the same excellent scoring and shot-blocking that he's put up all season.

The key for Brooklyn is Johnson. Sure, he's scored 33 points in the two games against Chicago, but the troubling aspect is how those points are coming.

Two nicknames haunt Johnson from his days with the Atlanta Hawks: "Iso Joe" and "No Show Joe." Both of those tendencies seem to be creeping back into his game.

Johnson has looked tentative on offense and afraid to attack the rim. He's been launching jump shots, and that only works when they're falling. It has also produced just two free-throw attempts through two games.

In Atlanta's first-round playoff loss last season, Johnson averaged 17.2 points per game, but shot just 37.3 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. Game 2's 17 points on 33.3 percent shooting echoes just that.

The Nets have been Janus-faced all season long. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal agrees: 

At times, they have looked splendid under midseason hire P.J. Carlesimo. When they play their best basketball, they can compete with any team in the league. Very few squads boast top-flight players at point guard and center.

But the Nets are also prone to curious clunkers that defy logic, like their 89-74 loss to the Washington Wizards on February 8 or their 109-87 spanking from the Denver Nuggets on March 29.

They also lost twice to the San Antonio Spurs by a combined 56 points. Even some of their wins were ugly, like the 102-100 win over the Phoenix Suns on March 24.

Brooklyn must shake off the cobwebs and return to their irrepressible form from Game 1. Their shooting stats plummeted by 20 percent in Game 2, so perhaps, chucking up jumpers is not the key to victory.

Still, the Nets finished ninth in offensive efficiency during the regular season, so there's plenty of evidence that they'll get off the schneid. They'll also need to account for Noah, which they can do with their depth in the frontcourt.

All is not lost, but Brooklyn will have to steal a win in Chicago if they want to dodge a quick first-round knockout.