Nate the Great
By Brian Martin
The Nets were in total control. They had built a 14-point lead with 3:45 to play, forced a turnover on the next possession and had a breakaway dunk that had word dagger written all over it.
But C.J. Watson missed the dunk. Then Reggie Evans missed a pair of free throws. And what looked like a game-sealing, series-tying possession came up empty. The Bulls' window remained cracked. And Nate Robinson blew it open.
Over a span of 103 seconds, Robinson scored 12 straight points for the Bulls. It started with a 3-pointer, then a driving layup, a jumper, three free throws after being fouled on 3-point attempt, and finally another jumper.
The Bulls held the Nets scoreless during the Robinson barrage to pull within two points with 1:11 remaining in the game and the roof on the United Center ready to blow off. After a Nets timeout, Robinson's defense helped force a five-second inbounding violation to give the Bulls possession. With all eyes on Nate to score again, this time he found Joakim Noah for a reverse layup to tie the game at 109 with 55 seconds left.
After a pair of Brook Lopez free throws, Noah struck again with a put-back off a Luol Deng missed three to tie the game again. The Nets would come up empty on their final possession and the game would head to overtime.
|29||Eric Floyd||Golden State vs. L.A. Lakers||May 10, 1987|
|27||Mark Aguirre||Dallas at Houston||May 5, 1988|
|Charles Barkley||Phoenix at Golden State||May 4, 1994|
Robinson scored 23 points in the fourth quarter -- just a point shy of the Bulls' team record for points in a single quarter in a playoff game set by Michael Jordan in 1990 -- and put himself in the lexicon of remarkable NBA Playoff performances. He came up six points shy of the NBA record for points in a single quarter, set by Sleepy Floyd in 1987, but few will think of amazing fourth quarter comebacks in playoff history without recalling this game.
Then came the first overtime and what looked like a storybook ending to this incredible performance from Robinson. With the score tied at 119 with just under 12 seconds to play, the Bulls came out of a timeout and put the ball in Robinson's hands. After a few seconds he made his move, dribbled right and pulled up for the jumpshot, which banked in with two seconds to play to put the Bulls up by two.
Brooklyn called timeout and the Bulls chest bumped on their way to the bench. But two seconds was enough time for the Nets to strike back, thanks to yet another clutch shot by Joe Johnson, who had three buzzer beating game-winners for the Nets this year and hit 8-of-9 shots in the last 30 seconds of game with a point differential of three points or less.
Robinson scored his final points of the night midway through the second overtime before fouling out with just over two minutes to play in the period. He finished with 34 points in under 29 minutes off the Bulls bench.
Nate Robinson -- Box Score Breakdown
|4th qtr & OTs||20:12||12||18||66.7||2||5||40.0||3||3||100||2||29|
While Robinson lifted the Bulls back into the game, it was his teammates that sealed the victory with Robinson on the bench in the final overtime period. They got contributions from everyone -- including Noah playing through plantar fasciitis to post a double-double; Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer all scoring down the stretch. But it was veteran Nazr Mohammed that delivered the knockout blows.
After Brooklyn pulled within three with just under a minute to play, Mohammed hit a hook shot in the lane off a pass from Kirk Hinrich to put the Bulls back up by five with 33 seconds to play. Lopez scored quickly to make it a one-possession game once again and the Nets were forced to foul. Boozer hit the first of two free throws, but missed the second. Mohammed grabbed the offensive rebound, made the put-back layup and the foul to put the Bulls up by six with 19 seconds left, serving as the nail the in coffin for this one.
The Bulls now have a 3-1 lead as the series shifts back to Brooklyn for Game 5 on Monday. After this instant classic, what could these two teams do for an encore?