CHICAGO -- In the midst of delivering high praise for Nate Robinson's epic performance Saturday afternoon, Carlos Boozer made a point to remember one of his Chicago Bulls teammates who usually gets lost in the shuffle of more important performances.
"Don't underestimate the game that Kirk Hinrich played tonight, man," Boozer said. "Kirk Hinrich did a hell of a job. Obviously he was guarding their best player in D-Will, playing 60 minutes or whatever he played tonight, he played the whole game it seemed like. Scored the ball for us when he had to, he got everybody involved when he had to, played amazing defense. Don't underestimate what Kirk Hinrich did tonight."
Boozer’s right. While Robinson's performance will get the headlines for the Bulls' 142-134 overtime win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4, and deservedly so, Hinrich's performance was almost as important. The veteran guard played almost 60 minutes, scoring 18 points and dishing out 14 assists in the memorable win. More importantly, Hinrich continued to frustrate Nets guard Deron Williams and set an early tone for his teammates. Williams would end up scoring 32 points, but Hinrich stayed in his face all day and stuck to his guns late as Williams managed just two points in the three overtimes.
"It was grueling," Hinrich admitted. "Just a total team effort tonight. It was just one of those things, we were having trouble stopping them, they were having trouble stopping us, and it ends up three overtimes later we finally get a winner."
A winner that the entire locker room savored. Hinrich's teammates know how crucial he has been to their success in this series.
"We all know what Kirk brings to this team," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "It's obvious. He's one of the best perimeter defenders in this league. The way he controls the offense… Kirk is a big, big, big, big factor in this series."
"He was huge on both ends of the floor," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler added. "Kirk's a big leader and a big role model for a lot of our guys so it's easy to take after him. A real tough, hard-nosed player."
Hinrich was understandably exhausted after the game but he did acknowlege that the win felt a lot like some of the games he and the Bulls had against the Boston Celtics during the 2009 playoffs.
"I suppose it was similar," he said. "I was younger then. It was one of those games they're probably going to be talking about for a while, just like everybody was talking about how the Boston series was such a great series. We're just thrilled to get the win. We feel like to get the win in a game like this is huge."
What’s left in the tank?: Noah was only supposed to play 30 minutes and he played almost 40. Hinrich played 60. Luol Deng played almost 57 while Boozer played 50. Despite all those numbers, the Bulls are still convinced they can find a way to win Game 5.
"We'll be fine," Butler, who played 40 minutes of his own, said. "We've got tough enough guys that know what they have to do. Take care of your body, but whenever that ball is jumped up again you got to be ready to go, injuries or not."
The second-year Marquette alum admitted that seeing the example that Hinrich and Noah are setting makes him want to play even harder.
"Those are your leaders -- they want to win," he said. "So they'll put their bodies on the line. It's the type of guys that we have. When you have leaders like that it's easy when you tweak an ankle to get back up and keep going when you have a minor injury because you know they're out there with… whatever's wrong with Jo and Kirk. I feel like it's easy to follow after those guys."
The last word: Noah, describing the last three minutes of regulation in which the Bulls were down by 14.
"Two things: Nathaniel. Nathaniel (Robinson) was huge and the basketball gods were definitely on our side, too. (C.J. Watson's) missed dunk was huge. Thank you, C.J. It was great, man. We just fought hard and Nate took over the game, hit big shot after big shot. He made great plays, too. Not only did he score but when they trapped him he made the right pass and that's what it's all about. It's all about winning."