The Bulls can’t play the superstar game, putting all their hopes in the achievement of an individual, if they don't have a superstar.
Nate Robinson, as sensational as he’s been, is not the answer for Chicago.
Chicago lost its opportunity to close out the Brooklyn Nets in their first-round series, falling 110-91 at Barclays Center in Game 5 Monday night.
Robinson started and scored 20 points on 9-of-19 shooting and tallied eight assists. It's a nice line, but even that wasn't enough; Chicago can't count on him to score 25 points in the fourth quarter as he did in their Game 4 triple-overtime win.
Isolation offensive sets, when not run for authentic superstar scorers, inevitably end sour. The Bulls would have lost in Game 4 and be down 3-2 in the series if not for Robinson’s heroics.
It’s fair to say every team in the NBA relies on the performances of one player on a given night, but is giving Robinson full control of the offense really sustainable?
He's shooting 54.4 percent and averaging 17.8 points in the postseason, but in the regular season, he shot 43 percent and averaged 13.1 points.
Eventually the mine is going to run dry, and only fool’s gold will be left.
Chicago’s offense needs to run with more efficiency, finding rhythm ahead of isolation.
In the Bulls' last 15 wins of the regular season, they averaged 24.8 assists and shot 45.7 percent. But in Game 5, other than Robinson's eight assists, the rest of the team only recorded 12 assists. They're averaging just more than 21 assists per game in the postseason.
Undoubtedly, the reliance on Robinson is more out of necessity than design. Chicago has been without Rose all season, and Kirk Hinrich was not available in Game 5.
Hinrich suffered a "seriously bruised" calf on Saturday. Since Jan. 1, the Bulls are 5-13 without Hinrich and 27-12 with him, as noted by Zach Schonbrun of The New York Times.
The Bulls were forced to play Robinson 44 minutes on Monday; he averaged 25.4 minutes a game in the regular season.
Still, when things get tight, the Bulls can’t rely on Robinson—or Marco Belinelli—to become Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. This isn’t a team set up to operate around the lone superstar.
The Bulls' regular season was filled with shared scoring, receiving contributions from Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson...the whole army. Chicago must involve all names.
Robinson's style out of iso sets, even when delivering high assists, also affects the Bulls defense and rebounding.
Offenses are created to leave players in position to rebound or play transition defense. But the effect of the isolation play (and Robinson's 1-of-5 three-point shooting on Monday) is that transition defense suffers. The Nets scored 21 fast-break points and out-rebounded the Nets 44-33.
If the Bulls hope to close out the Nets in Game 6 in Chicago, they must utilize their possessions through an organized offense that moves the basketball through the perimeter and bounces through the post.
If not, all hopes rely on the erratic abilities of Nate Robinson.