Boozer, Bulls Thwart Nets, 92-90

USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Boozer couldn't be stopped, and the Bulls executed down the stretch to beat the Nets by two.

Conventional Wisdom says that in this season's Eastern Conference playoffs, the coveted seeds are the #3 and #6 seeds.

If you can just avoid the Miami Heat, they say, your team has a good chance to make it to the conference finals and then "Who knows?"

Apparently, though, Tom Thibodeau lost Conventional Wisdom's number - because his Bulls had every excuse to jake it in Brooklyn tonight and cinch their hold on that coveted 6th position. They were missing All-Star center Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli, and Rip Hamilton - not to mention former MVP Derrick Rose, who has yet to suit up this season. With five roster players out of the rotation, no one could blame them if they took it easy, rested up for the playoffs and hung around in their comfortable #6 spot.

That is not the direction they went. They went hard, as usual.

The Nets, on the other hand, looked to get ready for the playoffs in a different way. With Joe Johnson missing so much time, coach P.J. Carlesimo indicated during the game that he felt Johnson needed to play. The ailing Gerald Wallace, who missed the previous game against the Cavaliers, also started.

The Nets took advantage early against the undersized and athletically-challenged Bulls frontcourt. Brook Lopez went 8-10 for 18 points in the 1st quarter and the Nets sped out to a 15 point lead.

But as the game progressed, the Bulls made adjustments on both ends. They worked to get Carlos Boozer wide open looks, and he responded by punishing the Nets' PF tandem of Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries with mid-range jumpers that neither of them could realistically challenge. Boozer wound up with 29 points and 18 rebounds - a monster effort from a player who the scoring-challenged Bulls need to produce in the playoffs.

And as the Bulls turned up the intensity on Lopez, the Nets responded with a weapon of their own - Deron Williams. Williams continued his post All-Star game stretch of looking like the player that the Nets were giddy to acquire, carrying the team in the 4th quarter and making all the right decisions down the stretch. Williams put up 30 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Nets.

But with 32 seconds remaining and the Nets up by 1, the pivotal play of the game would go in favor of the Bulls. Williams gave Lopez the ball 15 feet out on the left block. Mohammed bodied him up and Lopez was in a poor position to shoot. Williams waited out by the three-point line to receive a pass, but his man, Jimmy Butler (16 points, 10 rebounds) played it halfway - realizing Lopez did not require a double team. Lopez stepped through, but Butler blocked the passing lane to Williams and Lopez had to get rid of the ball to avoid a travel. He attempted to force it to Keith Bogans in the right corner, but Nate Robinson stole it and headed upcourt on the break. With Williams sprinting to pick up Butler, Johnson was left on the much quicker Robinson, who used a Mohammed screen to easily shake Johnson and shoot a floater over the outstreched arm of Lopez.

After a questionable non-call on a missed Lopez layup and a pair of split free throws by Daequan Cook, The Nets had one more chance to tie it. Despite Johnson being 9-10 in late game clutch situations, he never got a look. Williams drove to the middle and dished to a wide open Lopez just inside the line in the right corner. Lopez launched the buzzer beater, which circled the rim, bounced twice and fell harmlessly out - giving the resilient Bulls a two point victory.

Quick Notes

- Here is the total production from everyone on the Nets not named Lopez or Williams.

12-35, 32 points, 23 rebounds (13 by Evans), 6 assists, 6 steals, 1 block, 11 TO. That is not a recipe for success in a big game like this.

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