Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and several of their teammates have a backlog of playoff experience on which to draw. But as the Nets, trying to become the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit, they have just five playoff games together.
Game 5 was a hard-nosed win in which they effectively countered a Chicago journalist's public statement that the Bulls consider the Nets "heartless and gutless." The Nets muscled into the paint at Barclays Center to score 54 points and grab a 44-33 rebounding advantage.
Now, they have to repeat that physical effort in Game 6 to tie the series at 3 or see their season end Thursday night at Chicago's United Center. A win obviously brings the first-round series back to Brooklyn, where the Game 7 odds would be stacked in the Nets' favor.
"We didn't handle the success from Game 1," Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said of his team's blowout win in the opener. "If we get complacent at all or feeling good about ourselves because we got a good win [Monday] night, we won't be coming back for Game 7.
"If we go into Game 6 with the desperation we took into Game 4 or Game 5, that will serve us a lot better. It's going to be extremely important to go into the game with the right mindset."
In Game 5, the Nets focused on attacking ailing Bulls center Joakim Noah inside with a combination of Brook Lopez and backup Andray Blatche. Noah has been playing through the pain of plantar fasciitis and showed signs of wearing down last game.
Carlesimo said his philosophy of sending Lopez and Blatche to the basket instead of settling for jumpers wasn't specifically aimed at Noah. "Joakim has been playing noticeably hurt the entire series, but he's been extremely effective," Carlesimo said. "He's one of those guys that you've got to put a wood stake through his heart. So, it wasn't like, 'He's wounded. Let's go at him.' Not at all."
However, Carlesimo wants his players to gear up for what he anticipates will be a "major battle" on the boards in Game 6. Although he never questioned their heart, Carlesimo knows even his veterans face a learning curve on a Nets team new to the playoffs.
"I think that's a major part of our franchise going forward," Carlesimo said. "The more our group goes through these experiences, the better it is for them. This is really beneficial for us. That's the only good news about playing a long series. Everybody would love a four-game series, but these are really good to go through from a learning experience and will serve us well, hopefully, not just this week, but in the future."