NEW YORK -- As the rest of his Chicago Bulls teammates got dressed and headed for the bus, Kirk Hinrich laid face down on a trainer's table in a side room as the Bulls medical staff did more work on his aching left calf. The pain and frustration on his face was palpable.
The veteran guard had expressed hope before Monday morning's shootaround that he may only have to miss one game, but his actions after Monday's game told a different story. As he dressed a few moments later and strapped on a walking boot, it looked and sounded very unlikely that he would be able to play in Thursday’s Game 6 unless a dramatic change of events occurred.
The impact Hinrich has on the game was not lost on his teammates after the Bulls' 19-point loss in Game 5. They know how much of a presence he has on and off the floor and they know they're in a bind without him.
"He's our captain," Bulls guard Nate Robinson said. "That's like Tom Brady going down and somebody has to come in and fill in for him. At the same time, you got to be ready. And I know our guys, all of us collectively, we're always ready to pick up somebody when they're down. So if Kirk plays or if he doesn't play we got to be ready regardless."
Hinrich's leadership was missed Monday but not nearly as much as his defensive presence on Nets guard Deron Williams and his calming presence on the offensive end. Williams had 23 points and 10 assists -- but the key was that Hinrich's absence forced Robinson into playing almost 44 minutes. While Robinson still played a solid game, the energy the diminutive guard usually brings into contests was muted a little due to all his added responsibilities. The difference was not lost on Williams.
"You know Kirk is a good defender," Williams said. "You know he is tough, he fouls, he gets into you. You know he does what he is supposed to do; he tries to get under your screen. It is definitely a different look between Nate and Kirk."
The same goes on the offensive end. Hinrich has the ability to get his teammates in a rhythm on the offensive end while Robinson struggles to get everyone else into the right spots on the floor sometimes while he's looking for his own shot.
"We missed (Hinrich) out there, of course," Carlos Boozer said. "But I thought we played well. I thought our guys played very well in his absence. Obviously, his presence is very (much) missed by us. But we've had guys have to step up all season, we've got guys that are going to step up now."
That's the feeling the Bulls are trying to hang onto as they head into Game 6. They know it's going to be tough either way but they understand there's a very real chance they'll have to close down this series without their captain.
"Kirk's a big part of this team, that's obvious," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We have to find a way. We all have to compete a little bit harder. We got our asses kicked on the boards tonight. We're not happy about that and we got to bounce back."