In a time when it’s frustrating to be a Bulls fan, it’s always helpful to cheer yourself up with some good memories. One I fondly remember came a little over four years ago when the Bulls were in the midst of the 2013 NBA playoffs. Missing Derrick Rose the entire year, and entering the playoffs as an underdog 5 seed, the Bulls faced a tough series against the Brooklyn Nets.
It still boggles my mind to some degree that the Bulls were a 5 seed without the services of Rose. However, the team was comprised of five decent starters: Kirk Hinrich, the floor general, Jimmy Butler, the two-way player, Luol Deng, the skilled veteran, Carlos Boozer, the versatile big man, and Joakim Noah, the monster center. Yet it was none of these five players that sparked the Bulls to victory in a key game four.
No, that distinction belongs to Nate Robinson, the 5’9″ guard known to many just for his dunking. Though he had gained notoriety for winning three NBA Dunk Contests from 2006-2010, Robinson played a pivotal role with the Bulls in 2013.
With the absence of Rose, Tom Thibodeau needed a quality backup point guard to provide depth behind Kirk Hinrich. Robinson answered the call, averaging 13.1 points per game and 4.4 assists per game that season. Robinson contributed greatly from behind the arc, knocking down 40% of his three-point attempts. Considering he only played about 25 minutes a game that year, those numbers are impressive.
Robinson was brilliant virtually the entire series, leading the team in points per minutes played (he averaged 17 points and 30 minutes). Coming off the bench in the first four games, he wound up in the starting lineup in game five after Hinrich got injured. Even if Hinrich was healthy, Thibodeau would’ve had a tough choice after Robinson’s incredible game four.
On the heels of a game three loss, the Bulls were defending a slim 2-1 series advantage in the fourth contest. Led by Deron Williams, the Nets maintained control for most of the game, and were up with under three minutes to go, 109-95. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Nate Robinson caught fire. When I say fire, I mean a blazing, white hot inferno.
First, Robinson hit a three. Then, a driving, acrobatic layup. After that, a free-throw line jumper, and the United Center crowd was revved up. Due to those burns, Deron Williams upped the ante on defense, but it led to him fouling Robinson on his next shot, a three-point attempt. Robinson calmly sank all three free throws, and in about a minute, the lead was no longer 14, but 4. Continuing the stifling defense, the Bulls cut the lead again, and who else was it but Robinson? This time it was a tough 20-foot jumper, and Robinson, with his ecstatic reaction, had electrified even the most pessimistic of Bulls fans in the stadium.
In total, Robinson scored 23 points in the fourth quarter in one of the most exciting comebacks I have ever witnessed. He shot nearly 100% down the stretch, and with every swoosh of the net I believed a little bit more, until finally I was on my feet watching at home. But the show wasn’t over.
After a Robinson assist to Boozer to tie the score at 109, the game progressed into overtime. Following a smooth deep jumper to grab the lead with a minute to go, Robinson had the ball in his hands once more, this time with the clock ticking down from 12 seconds. Somehow, Robinson found a way to take an even wilder shot than his earlier ones, and somehow, it went in.
Though Joe Johnson answered Robinson’s shot with a clutch basket of his own, the Bulls went on to win the game 142-134 in three overtimes. Brooklyn captured the next two games, meaning Robinson saved the series for the Bulls. Had he not came through repeatedly in game four, the Bulls would have lost the game and accordingly, the series. Instead, the Bulls prevailed in seven games. Yes, the Bulls got knocked out in the next round, but to this day I will never forget the astonishing heroics of Nate Robinson in game four against the Nets.