Nets stave off elimination, force Game 6
In the postseason, especially in dire situations, someone else besides the stars often needs to deliver significant production. For the Nets in Game 5, that someone was backup center Andray Blatche.
Blatche scored 10 of his 13 points in fourth quarter and the Nets survived for another three days by pulling out a 110-91 victory over the Bulls Monday night.
“My main thing was I wanted to get the ball deep in the paint and just be aggressive,” Blatche said. “That’s kind of what I did. I stayed in attack mode.”
“He has done it throughout the season,” Brook Lopez said. “He is definitely capable of it and we are definitely going to need that performance again.”
Blatche finished with his most points in a playoff game and his third career double-digit postseason game. His biggest performance as a Net came despite struggling with calf pain.
“We didn’t want it to end,” Blatche said. “Nobody is ready to go home. We still feel like we have an opportunity to make it to the second round and we want to continue to fight to get to that round.”
Blatche also grabbed four of his five rebounds in the fourth quarter while helping a defensive effort which limited Chicago’s starting frontcourt of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah to six points and three rebounds in the quarter.
“I thought he was doing a good job,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I just thought he was playing very well. The biggest thing was his shot selection was excellent. He didn’t settle for jump shots unless the clock was on his back. He took the ball to the basket. He was aggressive. I thought in the second half, he defended much better than he did in the first half. He was playing very, very well.”
Blatche played virtually the entire fourth quarter, helping the Nets expand on a nerve-racking 77-74 lead for their fans. He had played just 8:33 and taken two shots in the opening 36 minutes but early in the period, as Deron Williams was getting a rest for the stretch run, Blatche helped the Nets maintain their lead and ensured Brooklyn would have two days to prepare for Game 6 Thursday night in Chicago.
His first basket came after a floating jumper by Nate Robinson cut the lead to 79-78. It was the result of a nice hustle play, as Blatche seized Kris Humphries’ missed jumper and converted the layup for an 81-78 lead.
Blatche’s next basket came in transition after Gerald Wallace forced Taj Gibson into a turnover. Wallace found Blatche with a nice outlet pass and the big man converted a finger roll for an 83-78 lead.
After Luol Deng hit a step back jumper from the left elbow, Blatche grabbed another offensive rebound and converted a short jumper to make it 85-80. Blatche later converted two foul shots after getting flagrantly fouled by Marco Belinelli with 6:56 left and hit another jumper less than a minute later.
Blatche’s minutes came at the expense of Reggie Evans, who grabbed 12 rebounds in 24 minutes. When Blatche exited to a standing ovation with 55.2 seconds left and the Nets up by 15, Evans embraced him.
“I was happy as hell,” Evans said. “I’m not really concerned about his calf right now. I know he’s going to play and he ain’t going to let us down. He’s my boy and he came through in the clutch.
“That just shows the unity in this room. There ain’t no hating. There’s all love and there may be games where I’m going to finish the games out but for him to stay focused, he’s going through so much this year and to stay poised, I’m grateful for him to be ready and do what he did and [he was] right on time.”
The Nets were up 91-84 with six minutes to play, but that can be an eternity in the fourth quarter of an NBA playoff game. But unlike Saturday, they did not wilt, getting a few highlight plays to close the game out properly.
The final minutes were the biggest challenge but instead of rehashing the last fourth quarter they played, the tone during timeouts was business-like with a focus on making the plays that eluded them Saturday and in the other two losses.
“We didn’t want to say much,” Williams said. “After the last game, it was pretty evident what we needed to do and that was close the game out and I thought we did a great job of it.”
“[We were] not necessary angry but more aware, just basically focused on closing this game,” Blatche said. “We got up. We wanted to keep the lead and not make mental mistakes and close the game out and I think we did a great job of that.”
Wallace hit maybe the biggest two shots — a 3-pointer in front of Chicago’s bench with 2:18 left, followed by a steal of Robinson’s pass and a transition dunk to make it 103-91 with two minutes left.
Williams scored 12 of his 23 points in the third quarter, looking like the player who aggressively slashed to the basket in Game 1. Lopez struggled to get deep post position at times against Joakim Noah but still managed a 28-point game.
Robinson led the Bulls with 20 points but after getting 23 in the fourth quarter Saturday, he scored just four down the stretch Monday night.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.