NEW YORK -- The Chicago Bulls lost Game 5 – but you can’t blame the replacements.
With Derrick Rose continuing to sit, and fellow starting guard Kirk Hinrich joining him on the sideline with a calf injury, coach Tom Thibodeau gave Nate Robinson a starting nod on Monday, along with second-year man Jimmy Butler.
Both played well, keeping the Bulls within striking distance until the final four minutes, when the Nets pulled away for a 110-91 victory.
Robinson scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 9-for-19 from the field, and also had eight assists. Butler scored 18 points, and had four steals as well.
Thibodeau said that rebounding was the difference in the game. The Nets outboarded the Bulls 44-33, including 17-11 on the offensive glass, and had a 24-12 advantage in second-chance points.
“Right from the start of the game I knew [the Nets] were reacting to the ball quicker than we were,” Thibodeau said. “So I was concerned about that right from the beginning. And it never changed.”
Robinson received the loudest boos of any of Chicago’s five starters during the pregame introductions -- not surprising, considering he sparked the Bulls’ incredible comeback in Game 4 with an electrifying 34-point performance, including 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Robinson, who began his NBA career in New York with the Knicks, was also booed every time he touched the ball in the early going.
“It’s all love. It’s all good,” Robinson said. “To me, that means nothing. It just shows that they open their eyes and they see that not just myself but our team, we play hard.”
But Robinson agreed with his coach that the Nets played harder this time around.
“They outhustled us,” Robinson said.
Still, Chicago was within three, 87-84, with just under eight minutes remaining, when Luol Deng missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game. And the Bulls cut their deficit to five, 95-90, with 4:15 left on a jumper by Robinson.
But the Nets outscored the Bulls 15-1 the rest of the way. The key sequence came when Gerald Wallace drained a trey to make it 101-91 with 2:18 left, and then intercepted a Robinson pass on the ensuing possession, resulting in an uncontested slam.
“Not good enough,” Robinson said, when asked to assess his performance. “It’s not about points. I had a crucial turnover down the stretch that really hurt us, and I take the blame for that.”
“He had some parts where he played extremely well,” Thibodeau said. “But we all have to do better.”
The series now shifts back to Chicago, with Game 6 on Thursday. Rose is not expected to play, and Hinrich’s status remains to be seen.
Either way, Robinson and Butler will be counted upon to contribute again -- especially Robinson, who was the Bulls’ third-leading scorer in the regular season (13.1 ppg), despite primarily coming off the bench.
Robinson said the absence of Hinrich is huge, but expressed confidence that the rest of the team can get the job done.
“He’s our captain -- that’s like Tom Brady going down and somebody has to come in and fill in for him. It’s tough,” Robinson said. “At the same time, you gotta be ready, and I know our guys -- all of us -- collectively are always ready to pick up somebody when they’re down.”
Robinson and Butler tried to do just that in Game 5. But it wasn’t enough.