Nate Saves Day, But Can Bulls Keep Him?
For those that spent the entirety of Saturday afternoon doing yard work or taking a nap or helping their kids get ready for prom, Nate Robinson and the Chicago Bulls put on a show for the ages. With Chicago down 14 points with only about three minutes left in regulation, Brooklyn’s C.J. Watson missed a wide open dunk that would pushed the lead to 16. Then, Robinson went insane offensively, and a few overtimes later the Bulls were absolutely exhausted but up three games to one in their first-round series with the Nets.
Robinson dropped 23 points in the fourth quarter, including 12 straight, then he chipped in six more in the first two overtimes before fouling out. He finished with 34 points for the game, and it seemed like every big shot that was there to hit, he hit it. The performance was easily the most exciting of the first round thus far, but Robinson didn’t seem to think he was any more in the zone than he usually is.
“I always think I’m on fire,” Robinson said after the game. “Like the old school game NBA Jam—you make a couple, and the rim’s on fire, and when you shoot the ball, the ball’s on fire. I feel like that at times. Well, all the time. When I’m in the game, I play with a lot of confidence, and you’ve kind of got to lie to yourself that you can’t miss.”
On Saturday, Robinson really didn’t miss, and that is in no way a lie. Every time the guy came down the floor he was burying huge shots. Watson couldn’t even dunk the ball properly, but everything Robinson threw up was cash money. To say it was fun to watch, and to say that the Bulls faithful at the United Center were excited about the run, would both be massive understatements.
“You know, it’s kind of cool because Coach kind of asks us what we want to run when we’re hot—what plays,” Robinson explained. “I told him not to call a play for me. Just let the ball find me, and we’ll just run the regular offense.”
For Robinson, though, “the regular offense” doesn’t always mean taking smart shots.
“I tease Coach a lot because it seems like every shot I shoot, he’s mad regardless,” Robinson said with a grin. “You’ve got to hope to make them, and then he really can’t say too much.”
After the game, however, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had nothing negative to say about Robinson’s incredible performance.
“It was big shot after big shot, but that’s what he does,” Thibodeau said. “That’s what makes him so valuable. It doesn’t take him much to get going, and when he gets going, he can go on a big run.”
Again, massive understatement, but the real question about this game is whether or not Robinson can repeat this offensive output again in this series and, fate willing, in a series against the Miami HEAT. Robinson only scored five points over the course of the first three quarters of this game, and in Game 3 of this series against Brooklyn he actually only attempted three field goals. The Bulls won that game thanks to their defense, but it has been made very clear that Robinson is the best chance Chicago has at finding consistent scoring from the guard positions, and that means they’re going to need more 20+ point games out of him if they’re going to move deeper into the playoffs.
The even bigger question is what Chicago may do with Robinson in the offseason. He was brought aboard toward the end of free agency last year as a fourth point guard because the Bulls wanted three active ones while Derrick Rose healed. From a financial standpoint, Robinson was low-risk, high reward signing (he made only a shade over $850,000 this season), but he likely made himself a few million dollars Saturday alone.
Chicago is a pretty safe team, financially speaking, so if Robinson is going to command at least $3-4 million a season next year, and Chicago already has Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague at point guard ($22.8 million combined next season), it doesn’t seem very likely that Robinson will be back in a Bulls uniform after these playoffs.
It’s a harsh reality, and certainly not one Bulls fans are going to want to hear after Saturday’s timeless performance, but he just doesn’t have much of a future with this team because of the money he’s likely to make in free agency this summer.
So enjoy the Nate Robinson show in Chicago while it lasts. Game 3 against Brooklyn was incredible, but as any of his teammates will tell you, Robinson is anything but an ordinary guy.