CHICAGO -- There was no "Good Nate" vs. "Bad Nate" on Monday night. There was just a veteran who had completely run out of gas.
After it was all over, including Robinson's 0-for-12 shooting from the field, the diminutive point guard slouched glumly in front of his stall with a huge ice pack around his left shoulder. He looked exhausted. After so many thrilling performances, Robinson responded with his worst game of the year on the biggest of stages. He couldn't get into any kind of rhythm and turned the ball over four times. For the first time in weeks, Robinson looked every bit the part of the third-string point guard he was signed to be when the season began.
"For me, if I make half the shots we're in the game," he said. "That's how I think about it. I just think you have games like that where you can't make a shot but you have to keep fighting, keep playing just like the team as a whole. We continued to play hard, we just couldn't put the ball in the basket."
The Bulls shot a franchise postseason record low 25.7 percent from the field. The group was terrible offensively. But it was Robinson's performance that was most head-scratching. It was as if all the minutes and all the hard falls finally caught up to the small man with the big heart. Robinson's inability to get to the rim and knock down the few open looks that he did have made all facets of the game even tougher on Tom Thibodeau and his team. They leaned on Robinson to fill the role that Derrick Rose provided over the past few years -- but with Robinson's offense in shambles, the Bulls had nowhere else to turn.
"Nate had a tough game," Thibodeau said. "They were aggressive out there. He didn't make shots tonight but he is a shooter and he will. We'll regroup and get ready for the next one."
At this point, the Bulls have no other choice. They need Robinson more than ever if they want to extend this series and win Game 5 in Miami. They're just hoping that their point guard can shake off the tough night and move on.
"Nate's tough man," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "He'll be alright. He'll shake this off and be ready for the next one. As teammates we're there for him. All game long we were telling him to hang in there. It's tough when you're going through what he's going through and try to do his best. As teammates we support him wholeheartedly. He's a tough dude anyway. He'll come back and be ready."
It's what he needs to be ready for is the problem. Obviously, the Heat have spent a lot of time scouting Robinson's game and tendencies. They are trapping him whenever they get a chance up top and the aggression is reeking havoc on the Bulls' game as Robinson continues to try to dribble through the trap, resulting in turnovers. Robinson hasn't been able to get going since Game 1 and the Heat's attention to detail has caught the attention of everybody.
"I told him that in Game 1 against Brooklyn but Brooklyn didn't do it," Bulls guard Rip Hamilton said of the trapping on Robinson. "You got to expect them to trap you. When you're a scorer and you're going against great defensive teams, they're going to do everything possible to take you out of the game. So now you've got to figure out different counters and read their defense and find different openings. That's the playoffs. They do an excellent job of scouting everybody and that's what makes great players, is the playoffs, because they don't let you go to your go-to plays."
That may be the problem for the Bulls and Robinson. In this up and down season, they've asked a journeyman player who has bounced around the league and didn't even have a fully guaranteed contract until the first of the year to play the role of a superstar. In Robinson's own mind he never had a doubt that he could play the role, and he's proven he has the ability at various points, but the true value of a superstar is being able to affect the game even during an off night. Robinson fell back to earth Monday night; he has proven his worth many times over for the Bulls but he'll never be able to make people forget about Rose because he's just not that kind of player. He's done the best he can in this role but the Heat appear to have finally figured him out.
"They did a good job defending of course," he said. "But I had a lot of open shots that I usually make and a lot of floaters that I usually make that I missed, but you can't make every shot. At the same time you just have to know when it's not your night and it wasn't my night tonight. I just have to try to bounce back."