Thursday night’s nationally televised slate of NBA Game 6s is the story of two polar opposite matchups.
In the early evening, the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls will battle in a series that has oscillated between mid-1990s slugfest and shockingly high-scoring affairs. In an unsurprising twist of fate, the Bulls are 2-0 in games where both sides are under the 100-point mark. The Nets are 2-1 in games where at least one team has scored in triple-digits—the one exception being Game 4’s KryptoNate explosion.
The Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, on the other hand, seemingly crown a new Nate Robinson on a nightly basis. While this series has mostly been remembered for the coronation of Stephen Curry to the lofty (and completely meaningless) title of superstar, it’s also been a beautiful dream for those who love high-scoring affairs. Golden State’s 95 points in Game 1 were the fewest scored in the series, with each of the past four games seeing both sides go triple-digits.
In other words, the folks at TNT have an NBA dream duo for Thursday. There’s something for everyone, and now you just need to know when to catch all the action.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of when and where to watch Thursday night’s action.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls (Chicago leads 3-2)
When: 8 p.m. ET
Where: United Center in Chicago
Thursday’s contest will come down to whether coach P.J. Carlesimo makes necessary adjustments to his rotation or engulfs his team in a stick-to-the-script mentality.
One of the universal truths of the postseason—others would call it a cliche—is that April, May and June are the months where NBA spacing goes to die. Pace slows universally slows down, which leads to fewer possessions and inherently a more reticent need for efficient scoring. Oklahoma City vs. Houston and Denver vs. Golden State are the only two series averaging a pace that would be above the NBA regular-season average, per NBA.com.
And as a series goes along—especially when facing a defensive savant like Tom Thibodeau—the difficulty to get good shots only increases. Two or three days is a ton of time to prepare for a basketball game, and doing so five previous times gives coaches like Thibodeau plenty of game tape. The tide turned when the Bulls started suffocating Deron Williams and Joe Johnson on isolations, leading to terrible, contested jumpers from the mid range.
The Nets’ biggest problems come from the offensively dreadful Reggie Evans/Gerald Wallace duo on the floor. Brooklyn scores nearly 13 points per 100 possessions more with Evans on the bench, and having both on the court at the same time creates an offensive nightmare. Because they are complete nonentities on the offensive end, Chicago can willfully ignore them and overload the strong side.
In the video above, Carlos Boozer completely abandons Evans for a stretch, leaving Luol Deng to essentially cover both players. It has little bearing on the overall play—a questionable Deron Williams deep two-pointer—but indicates how the Bulls have been defending this entire series.
The easiest fix in this situation is to sit Evans in favor of Andray Blatche—or at least give the latter a lion’s share of minutes at the 4. Blatche has been fantastic in this series, scoring 10.6 points and grabbing 4.6 minutes a game in around 20 minutes a night. The Nets average 10 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per NBA.com, which is almost wholly rooted in his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers.
Boozer has to respect the possibility of Blatche knocking down an 18-footer. He barely has to register Evans as a threat from three feet outside the basket.
It’s those little things that win or lose a postseason series.
However, there’s just one thing working against the Andray Blatche's 35 minutes a night brigade. His calf is injured. Carlesimo categorized it as “very sore” during Game 4, though as Newsday’s Rod Boone notes, Blatche did play through it:
Can Blatche do that for 30-plus minutes on Thursday? It’s hard to say. But the possibility of Evans again getting that time on the floor is enough to make Chicago a heavy favorite to walk out of the United Center having advanced past Round 1 despite all odds.
Score Prediction: Bulls 94, Nets 88
Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors (Golden State leads 3-2)
When: 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Oracle Arena in Oakland
We go from the series that’s wrought in postseason cliches to one that’s bucking them altogether.
The Nuggets and Warriors have played like two ABA teams thus far, so much so that you expect Larry Brown to show up to the Pepsi Center in overalls if Denver is able to force Game 7. According to NBA.com, this series is being played at a pace that would eviscerate Houston’s league-high rate from the regular season—which is exactly what we all expected coming in.
In fact, much of this series has been filled with things we expected, taken to a heightened level. The Warriors’ three-point draining savants were expected by most to have success against Denver’s trap-heavy aggressive defense. They knocked down threes at an alarming rate during the regular season, making them a perfect muse for the Nuggets’ propensity to allow open looks.
It’s just that no one expected this bonanza. The Warriors have not only knocked down a higher percentage of their three-pointers (42.6 compared to 40.3), but they’ve done so while attempting nearly five more per game. According to Synergy Sports, Golden State has averaged 1.30 points per possession on spot-up opportunities—dwarfing all other playoff teams’ totals.
And despite trying a multitude of different strategies, there’s little George Karl has been able to do to stop it.
The Warriors’ new small-ball starting lineup, necessitated by David Lee’s unfortunate injury, has been killing Denver all series, per NBA.com. This is where Karl is missing Danilo Gallinari the most, as he would be able to match up with Harrison Barnes while giving the Nuggets another interesting wrinkle offensively. Slightly altered variations of these five-man units with Carl Landry substituted for either Barnes or Andrew Bogut have also done gangbusters.
That probably isn’t going to change this late in the series. Denver subsists on creating chaos for the opposing team and that’s going to lead to open buckets. Even in the Nuggets’ Game 5 victory, they gave up 1.23 points per possession in spot-up opportunities.
Instead, Denver will have to hope the Warriors bury themselves by falling in love with the jumper—especially by allowing inefficient offensive tries. According to Synergy, the Warriors strangely went heavy on the isolation in Game 5, shooting 5-of-19 in those opportunities—all but two of which were jumpers.
Golden State was a below-average iso team during the regular season, but ran those sets only 11.4 percent of the time. In Game 5, that percentage doubled.
Denver’s best hope is to take a page out of the Celtics’ playbook, lull Golden State into easy isolations and hope Steph Curry and the like take the bait. If not, we’re looking at what should be another ascendant night from the Warriors’ brilliant downtown shooters.
Our money is on the latter—especially with Oracle Arena assuredly rocking on Thursday night.
Score Prediction: Warriors 114, Nuggets 104