The Chicago Bulls were down and just about out in this one. Go figure, Nate Robinson led them back.
Robinson scored 34 points, and Chicago wiped out a 14-point deficit late in regulation and beat the Brooklyn Nets 142-134 in triple overtime Saturday to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
The Bulls were trailing 109-95 in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter when Robinson went on one of his tears, carrying his team to an improbable victory with a stretch that reminded the streaky point guard of a video game.
”I always think I’m on fire, kind of like the old school game NBA Jam,” he said. ”You make a couple in a row, the rim’s on fire. You shoot the ball, the ball’s on fire. I feel like that at times – all the time. Whenever I’m in the game, I just play with a lot of confidence. You kind of have to lie to yourself and feel like you can’t miss.”
There’s the rub with Robinson.
He’ll rush shots. He’ll miss. He’ll make his coach cringe and every Bulls fan groan, but then, he’ll do something like this.
Robinson scored all but five of his points after the third quarter, including the first 12 in a 14-0 run that wiped out Brooklyn’s late lead. Then, with 2 seconds left in the first overtime, he banked in a go-ahead jumper over Deron Williams.
Joe Johnson answered with one of his own to send it to another overtime, tied at 121. The Bulls had a chance to win in the closing seconds of the second extra session, but Joakim Noah was blocked, and the game went to a third OT.
The Bulls finally pulled away after Williams (32 points) drove for a layup to pull Brooklyn to 133-130 with 3 minutes left. The basket accounted for Williams’ only points after regulation.
Luol Deng then scored to make it a five-point game, and Nazr Mohammed hit two shots in the final 32 seconds to help preserve the win.
He converted a jump hook, then grabbed the rebound and scored with 19 seconds left after Carlos Boozer made a free throw and missed the second, making it 140-134.
The Bulls will try to wrap up the best-of-seven series at Brooklyn on Monday. The Nets are going to have to dig deep to win three in a row after they wasted a prime chance to draw even and steal back home-court advantage.
Brooklyn was leading by 14 after a dunk by Gerald Wallace with 3:45 left in the fourth. C.J. Watson then stole the ball and was all alone for a breakaway dunk, but he missed.
Robinson nailed a 3 with 2:53 remaining, and that got the tying run started. Boozer finished it with a layup with about 55 seconds left.
Brook Lopez then hit two free throws, but the Bulls tied it again when Noah put back his own miss with 23 seconds left. Williams missed a jumper and Wallace had his layup blocked by Jimmy Butler with a second left, sending the game into overtime.
”We made a lot of mistakes up 14,” Williams said. ”It was so long ago, I can’t remember what all went on. We had the missed dunk. Missed free throws. I fouled Nate on the 3. We made a lot of mistakes in the fourth quarter.”
It looked as if the Bulls would win when Robinson banked in a runner off one foot over Williams with two seconds left in the first OT. But after a 20-second timeout, Johnson caught a pass at the top of the key and nailed a floater at the buzzer, sending it to double overtime.
The Bulls were leading 127-123 after Deng fed Noah for a dunk with 1:18 left in the second overtime, but Johnson quickly quieted the crowd with a three-point play.
Robinson then fouled out when he charged into Williams with just over a minute left. Lopez got fouled with 48.7 seconds left and made the first free throw to tie it at 127 before missing the second. Boozer got the rebound, but Deng missed a jumper with 30 seconds left.
Johnson then missed one for Brooklyn with about six seconds left. Noah was blocked by Lopez, the ball bouncing out of bounds, and the game went to a third overtime after the inbounds pass deflected off the Bulls center and hit the rim.
Robinson came close to missing the second half and overtimes altogether.
He and Watson got tangled up in the second quarter and went crashing into the scorers’ table in the second quarter. They exchanged shoves, but the referees decided not to eject them.
Instead, they each got technicals and Robinson – who was guarding Watson – picked up a personal foul. But later, he perked up just as the Nets were ready to put this one away.
”I tease Coach (Tom Thibodeau) a lot because it seems like every shot I shoot he’s mad,” Robinson said, laughing. ”At the same time, it’s basketball. He does a great job of putting us in position to be successful.”
When this is the result, Thibodeau will take it.
”He hit big shot after big shot,” he said. ”That’s what makes him so valuable. We got him going and he had a great run. He just played a great game.”
The Bulls also got a big performance from Kirk Hinrich, who finished with 18 points and 14 assists. Boozer scored 21, Jimmy Butler added 16, and Noah chipped in with 15 points and 13 rebounds. He also played more than 38 minutes even though Thibodeau had said he would be limited to about 25 to 30 because of the plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
Williams hit the 30-point mark in a playoff game for the seventh time in his career and had 10 assists. Lopez added 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Johnson scored 22 despite being bothered lately by plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
”Honestly, this is definitely a game we let get away,” Johnson said. ”It’s disappointing, but the series isn’t over.”
NOTES: Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said before the game that he talked to Wallace about his role after the veteran forward wondered where he fit with the team. Wallace wasn’t thrilled after sitting out the entire fourth quarter in Game 3. ”Hopefully, we’ve done a better job of letting Gerald know the things that are important for him to do to help us be successful,” Carlesimo said. … Robinson’s 34 points were the most ever in a playoff game by a Bulls reserve, and his 23 in the fourth were one shy of the club postseason record for any quarter. Michael Jordan scored 24 in the fourth at Philadelphia in Game 3 of the conference semifinals in 1990. … The Bulls set franchise playoff records for points and made field goals (58).