Brooklyn Nets face Chicago Bulls in Game 5 with season on the line
Game 4 hurt, physically and mentally, but there's nothing they can do about it. The missed free throws, the blown boxouts, cost them what should have been a victory, and they realize things would be a whole lot different if they were coming home tied at two games apiece instead of trailing the Chicago Bulls 3-1.
That's history now. If they don't win Game 5 on Monday night, they'll have all the time in the world to think about what might have been.
"I think they are very acutely aware of the mistakes that we made and I don't think we need that for tomorrow. I think tomorrow is more positive and I think it's really important for us to be looking ahead, not backwards, tomorrow," coach P.J. Carlesimo said Sunday, revealing that the Nets won't look at specifics of their collapse when they gather Monday morning.
"They'll be enough motivation. They're not going to forget what happened on Saturday, but I don't think we need it. We need to dwell on Monday, not Saturday."
What the Nets are trying to forget is the 14-point lead they couldn't hold late in regulation on Saturday. Nate Robinson led the Bulls back, and they pulled out a 142-134 triple-overtime victory. As meaningful as it was for the Bulls, they understand they also need to let it go quickly.
"Well, it's one game," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I like the fact that we never quit on the game. That's been the nature of the team all season. They'll keep battling. Things weren't going our way, but there was no give-in. They just kept going."
That spirit has Chicago on the verge of the second round in a season in which Derrick Rose hasn't played at all, Joakim Noah has battled chronic pain in his right foot and some other injury often seems around the corner, even it's not serious. This time it's a bruised calf for point guard Kirk Hinrich.
So the Bulls know never to expect anything to come easily, certainly not a close-out game on their opponent's home floor. The Nets are 5-0 in Game 5s at home.
"They're going to be in their building, so they're going to have juice and energy from the crowd," forward Carlos Boozer said. "For us, we just have to stay focused, poised, tighten up our defense."
Indeed, the Bulls aren't used to having to rely on something like the 29 points Robinson scored after the third quarter. They prefer to lean on their defense but realize there are some nights against teams like the Nets where they will have to win by making shots.
"The thing is, you've got to win different ways," Thibodeau said. "They make shots. Some of the plays were defended well. We knew that going in. You can't let your guard down against them. They're a great team. They've shown that all year. We know we're going to have to play our best game tomorrow."
Only eight NBA teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit, yet Carlesimo remained optimistic Sunday - even talking about the days off in between Game 6 and Game 7. He believes the Nets have outplayed the Bulls for long enough stretches during the series to think they can do it for an entire game.
"I mean, we know it should be 2-2, and you know the whole line of questioning would be totally different. But it's not, it's 3-1, and that's our fault and we've got to deal with it," Carlesimo said on a conference call. "But we know how close it was to being 2-2 and a totally different scenario.
"Playoffs are a game at a time. The mindset will be totally different tomorrow night and if we can get the job done it'll be totally different going into Thursday."
With only one day of rest between games, Carlesimo said he may have to extend his rotation Monday after Deron Williams played 58 minutes Saturday and every other starter played at least 48, the equivalent of a full game. Thibodeau, who has been criticized for riding his starters too long, actually got more key minutes from his bench because Robinson was playing so well and because Noah's time on the court has to be limited because of his foot.
Thibodeau did say that Noah has been feeling less soreness the day after games than he was late in the regular season. The center was on the floor 39 minutes Saturday, about 10 more than Thibodeau wants to play him.
The Bulls also went 3-1 against the Nets during the regular season, though most of the margins were as close as Chicago's have been during this series. So Carlesimo, who helped the Nets win 49 games in their first season in Brooklyn after replacing the fired Avery Johnson in December, doesn't think their work is done yet.
"I don't think it's difficult for our guys to feel that they're capable of doing this," he said. "I think that they feel we can beat the Bulls. Have we done it? No, we haven't done it enough. But they know that we can do it, they know that this game is in Brooklyn, and I do think they'll bounce back and I do think it's doable."