BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It was roughly two hours before the opening tip and the court was buzzing with activity.
Protective covering was being peeled off the NBA Playoffs logo. The Nets’ humongous insignia at midcourt got a quick buffing, polished up so it looked good to the millions watching.
Black T-shirts and chocolate-frosted cookies with the words “Hello Playoffs” written on them were laid out on every Barclays Center seat, a sign that the Nets were indeed about to embark on the NBA’s second season.
So with all the hoopla surrounding their first playoff action in Brooklyn, the Nets were going to have to make sure they kept their emotions in check Saturday night against the Bulls in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Bulls.
“Well, that’s a challenge every night, but more so in the big games and in the first game of the playoffs,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said before the game. “Perhaps, more so for the home team that’s a big thing — to balance the emotions. Getting to that first timeout, you always hope that not a lot of crazy fouls go on in the first six (minutes) and everybody can settle in and just start playing.”
They didn’t just settle in against the Bulls. The Nets downright kicked their feet up, raided the refrigerator and jumped into their bathrobes. They raced out to a 24-point lead at halftime and took down Chicago in the opener of their first-round series, muscling their way to an impressive 106-89 victory.
The Nets, who host Game 2 on Monday night in Brooklyn, collected their first playoff win since May 16, 2007, when they knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez set the tone from the get-go in a game the Nets led by as many as 28 points, something that’s extremely uncommon in the postseason. The duo combined for 21 of the Nets’ 25 first-quarter points, outscoring Chicago, which mustered only 14 points, all by themselves. Making his playoff debut, Lopez netted a team-high 21 points, canning 7 of 15 shots and dominating inside.
Williams, one of the hottest players in the league since the All-Star break, was unconscious once more, carving the Nets up for 22 points, shooting 9-for-15. He dissected the Bulls’ defensive scheme with relative ease at times, knifing his way to the basket to either toss up a shot or find an open teammate, helping the Nets grab an 89-62 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Even with Joakim Noah trying to gut it out, attempting to play through the plantar fasciitis — and tear — in his right foot, the Bulls were no match on this night. Noah was in obvious pain and didn’t play a single minute in the second quarter after logging 6:25 in the first quarter.
He started the second half, perhaps hoping to inspire Chicago to dig out of that cavernous hole the Nets put them in. However, the Bulls still struggled to score and the Nets didn’t let their foot off the gas in a 29-point third quarter.
Williams capped off the quarter with a two-handed, fast-break, reverse dunk that nearly blew the roof off the Nets’ million-dollar home. By then, they were well on their way to taking the first game of what many think will be a lengthy series, and Carlesimo wasn’t about to downplay the significance of what it would mean to take their playoff opener.
“The playoffs, once you get beyond one, you kind of play back to the last one,” Carlesimo said. “The first one, you’ve got to establish it. But you’ve got to get to four. You’ve got to one before you get to anywhere else.”
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