When Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo received word Monday morning that Bulls starting point guard Kirk Hinrich would miss Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with a calf injury, he worried about containing backup Nate Robinson, the 5-7 firebrand who was most responsible for the Nets' triple-overtime loss in Game 4 and a 3-1 series deficit.
But it turned out to be a case of addition by subtraction. That is to say the subtraction of Hinrich's defense led to additional room for Nets point guard Deron Williams to operate.
After struggling against Hinrich much of the series, Williams had 23 points and 10 assists as the Nets rebounded with a 110-91 victory at Barclays Center to send the series back to Chicago for Game 6 Thursday night.
Robinson, who had 23 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4, provided his usual offensive fireworks with 20 points and eight assists in 44 minutes. But instead of giving the Bulls points off the bench, he became the Bulls' main scorer, taking 19 shots. They got only 20 points from their bench to 32 by the Nets' bench.
Asked if he actually liked Williams' matchup against Robinson far better than against Hinrich, Carlesimo said, "I don't want to say I like it better, but it limits some of the moves can make.
"Kirk has defended so well. It's not like he's just a defensive stopper. He's also averaged like 15 points and shooting a good percentage. They're missing one of their better players, so that's a major factor."
Maybe it's the turning point in the series. Williams said the Bulls did a good job in three straight losses of making him "uncomfortable." But Monday night he broke down Robinson with ease to get into the lane, especially in the third quarter, when he scored 13 of his points.
"Kirk is a good defender," Williams said. "He's tough, he fouls, he gets into you. He tries to get under your skin. So it was definitely a different look between Nate and Kirk."
Instead of taking over in the fourth quarter, as he did in Game 4, Robinson got run over. With eight minutes left and the Bulls down a point, he got a shot blocked by Kris Humphries, threw up an air ball, missed another shot when Brook Lopez double-teamed and committed a turnover that led to Gerald Wallace's fast-break dunk for a 103-91 lead.
When Thibodeau was asked for his assessment of Robinson, he said, "I'm disappointed because of the way we played. We lost by a lot . . . There were some parts when he played extremely well, but we all have to do better."
The Nets survived their Game 4 hangover and now have two off days before Game 6. "I'm really happy," Williams said. "We needed a win to get our confidence back and feel better about ourselves. It was a good win, but it's not over."
Exactly. It's a new ballgame now for Williams and the Nets, especially if Hinrich is unable to recover from his injury in time to make a difference.