NEW YORK — With the Nets leading by 12 with less than 2 minutes to play in Monday night's Game 5 at the Barclays Center, Bulls guard Nate Robinson hovered near midcourt as his four other teammates worked the ball for a shot.
And Nets guard Deron Williams hovered with Robinson, staying within arm's length even as the ball moved below the free-throw line. If Robinson would have gotten on the subway, the sense is Williams would have bought his token.
Clearly, the Nets came committed not to let lightning strike twice in the fourth quarter of this series and left with a surprisingly efficient 110-91 win to make it 3-2. Two days after Robinson made history with a 23-point fourth-quarter performance, he scored four in the final 12 minutes as the Nets built their lead rather than relinquished it.
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Instead of willing his team to victory down the stretch, Robinson gave the Nets a boost with a lazy pass Gerald Wallace intercepted and dunked to punctuate that the Bulls were not in Mr. Robinson's neighborhood anymore.
This would not be a game defined by Robinson's magic but by the Nets' mettle.
Who knew they still had any?
"You could tell they didn't want to go home,'' said Robinson, who finished with 20 points.
Now the Nets head to the United Center for Game 6 on Thursday night hoping to do something they haven't done this season: Win on the Bulls' court. They have lost all four previous meetings but none with their season on the line. Situations like these tend to bring out the best in the Bulls, who stewed in a solemn postgame locker room full of strewn tape and regrets.
The urgency the Nets will bring to Chicago surfaced in Game 5 in what they treated as an elimination game more than their visitors. The Bulls didn't play terribly but, like Game 1, the Nets simply played with more intensity. Nothing demonstrated that more than the stat sheet, which showed the Nets outscoring the Bulls 24-12 in second-chance points and hustling for 17 offensive rebounds.
"To me, that was the difference in the game,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
When the Bulls rebound as poorly as they did — 44-33 in the Nets' favor — they lose. Taj Gibson grabbed one rebound in 13 minutes. Joakim Noah snagged four in 28. If that happens again the Bulls will return here Saturday night for a Game 7 nobody in Chicago wants. The Bulls are 0-8 when outrebounded by 10 or more, team statistics show.
"We have to gang rebound,'' Thibodeau said.
The Bulls have to do other things better too.
Luol Deng needs to start hitting from 3-point range. Guards need to feed Carlos Boozer the ball more so he gets more than eight shots (4 of 8 for 10 points). The defense around Brook Lopez needs to collapse quicker so he doesn't go for 28 points and 10 rebounds again. Everybody needs to do a little more to compensate for the costly absence of Kirk Hinrich, whose calf injury figures to force him to miss the rest of the series.
They missed Hinrich's defense on Williams, who took advantage with 23 points and 10 assists from wherever he wanted to go on the court. When Williams operates that freely, the Nets are a different team. Thus, so are the Bulls.
"He's our captain,'' Robinson said of Hinrich. "That's like Tom Brady going down (for the Patriots).''
Only twice this season has Robinson played more than he did Monday night when he was on the floor for a team-high 43:34. He downplayed the notion that fatigue contributed to him shooting 2 of 5 in the fourth quarter or the late turnover. But the strain showed on the Bulls point guard, who got testy with a New York reporter who asked him if he was unable to find the zone he found in Game 4.
"You tell me,'' Robinson snapped. "Every game is different.''
Game 6 better be for the Bulls, or else they will head back to Brooklyn.