I wondered last night if the Nets would come out sluggish, but didn't think the Bulls would follow suit, especially with a near-sellout crowd welcoming them.
But they did, and a completely winnable game was given away by the Bulls like their 24 turnovers. In a game that had a first quarter end in a 12-12 tie, and a halftime score of 31-30, the Bulls almost managed to overcome their own hideous play and looked like they had a win in hand in the 4th quarter. While failing to establish themselves down low against the much smaller Nets, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich were intent on winning this game on their own.
Ben's game was pretty remarkable, shooting 7-9 in a game where the combined shooting percentage was 38% by all other players for both teams. Every minute he was in the game was noticeable compared to his replacements, mainly Chris Duhon. Skiles put Gordon in for Duhon earlier than normal in the second half (5 minutes in), but the case can be made that it wasn't soon enough. What this game showed me most about Gordon's importance is when the Bulls needed to finish it off. Constantly in foul trouble, Gordon was pulled by coach Skiles with 6:45 left in the 4th with 5 fouls, only to see him foul out a minute and half after he was put back in. It was at this point (3 minutes left) that you could feel the game slipping away. Hinrich had a fantastic night (30 points), and Curry can always be competent down low (when you get him the ball in the right place), but without Gordon those two were unable to step up and fill his role. Meanwhile the all-star trio of Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson turned it up on both ends to give the Nets the lead for good.
Kirk Hinrich's foul troubles are well known, but Ben's game tonight got me wondering how often he's been hacking:
(min 500 minutes, doesn't include tonight's game)
So being behind only the notoriously hacktastic Chandler and Nocioni, Gordon obviously needs to cut down on his fouls, as he had his 6 in only 24 minutes tonight. The off-the-ball fouls really hurt him, but you have to wonder how much of that is due to lack of referee respect, Gordon's carelessness, or the fact that his matchup is always someone bigger and stronger than him.
That all said, the way the Nets played (or were defended) tonight, there's no reason the game should've been that close for it to matter. The Nets started out 0-10 and the Bulls could only get a 6-0 lead, failing to use their size advantage throughout. And the numerous turnovers by Nocioni (4), Deng (6) and Curry (5) almost give credence to Skiles keeping the untalented Duhon on the court, at least he treats the ball like it has some value. I wish I could say differently, but his won't be the last time it happens during the season, teams can and will underperform and still remain close. And when that happens its obvious that the Bulls live and die with Ben Gordon. But increased contributions from the other players on the court can make unnecessarily close games like these happen less often.