CHICAGO -- Survival mode means doing whatever it takes to see another day, and so it was that the Brooklyn Nets forced a Game 7 by playing with their backs to the wall, their foot to the pedal and ultimately their crash helmets on.
Against a Chicago Bulls team hobbled by injury and illness, the Nets were less interested in showing sympathy than pushing the tempo, at least in the first half, anyway.
But an early track meet morphed into a bruising and sloppy affair in the second half, and still the Nets had enough to extend their first-round series to a deciding Game 7 Saturday at Barclays Center.
“We have a lot of heart,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said of the Nets’ ability to rally from a 3-1 series deficit. “We are a very resilient team. That is also true for the Bulls. It has been a pretty good series when you can get it to a seventh game. It is fortunate for us that our guys have earned home court. There is no guarantee with that, but I would rather be there.”
The Nets still were pushed to the brink Thursday even though Bulls All-Star Luol Deng left the arena in street clothes just as the game was starting. Deng had been so ill that he reportedly spent time in the hospital Wednesday and even had a spinal tap to test for viral meningitis. Tests apparently came back negative.
Then there was Bulls spark plug Nate Robinson, also dealing with an illness that had him vomiting into a trash can while on the bench. He managed to play a spirited 42 minutes, scoring 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting. Taj Gibson was also flu-ridden and lethargic, fouling out in just 18 minutes of play.
Playing with their own physical ailments, the Nets weren’t going to feel bad about it.
“We just believed in each other that we can do this,” guard Joe Johnson said. “In practice [Wednesday], we just asked each other who wanted it [more]. Down the stretch we knew we had to execute and we did.”
“Execute” might be a strong word. The Nets came through by shooting 35.3 percent in the final quarter, compared to the Bulls’ 32.1 percent. The Nets were even outrebounded 15-12 in a final quarter when two Bulls big men, Gibson and Carlos Boozer, ultimately fouled out.
“I really think it shows how much of a team we really are,” said Brook Lopez, who matched Johnson and Deron Williams for team high-scoring honors with 17. “We’re in this together and that’s how we play. We played each of these elimination games with a sense of urgency because our backs were against the wall and everybody responded, every single person.”
Now comes the deciding game the Nets had hoped for, back in the comforts of their brand-new arena that will be filled with their newfound confidence.
“Most people could have counted us out being down 3-1,” Andray Blatche said. “But we kept fighting. That was the biggest thing about this team. We saw that we had a lot of heart. Now that it’s tied up, we have to have that same hunger and same attitude and finish this off on Saturday.”