The Chicago Bulls can once again eliminate the Brooklyn Nets and advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but on Thursday, they'll get a chance to do it at home.
After the Bulls took a 3-1 lead in this quarterfinal series with an epic, triple-overtime win on Saturday, the matchup shifted to Brooklyn on Monday. The Nets exploded in the fourth quarter and prevailed, 110-91, but the Bulls are still just one win from a date with the Miami Heat.
However, just because the game will be played at the United Center means nothing to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
"We're going to have to play well," said Thibodeau. "It's good to be home; we have great support there. But we've got to put the work into the game to give our fans something to cheer about. We have to get things corrected."
On Monday, it was a four-point game until Brooklyn demolished the Bulls in the final frame to the tune of 33-18. It was a one-point contest with 8:16 left, but the Nets outscored Chicago 15-1 to end the game. The Bulls' last field goal came with 4:15 to go.
The Bulls, one of the league's best defensive teams, allowed the Nets to shoot 50 percent for the night, and got crushed on the boards. Brooklyn outrebounded Chicago, 44-34, and picked up 17 offensive boards and 54 points in the paint.
Chicago went without guard Kirk Hinrich on Monday. The starting point man injured his calf, and although he didn't do much at practice on Wednesday, he called himself day-to-day.
"I'm doing better," said Hinrich. "Taking it day to day, and just throwing everything at it to try and improve it as quickly as possible. I hope I can. It's going to be a game-time decision, I'm sure. I'd have to improve some, definitely."
Hinrich's injury doesn't mean we'll finally see Derrick Rose this season.
To compound matters, both Luol Deng and Taj Gibson missed practice on Wednesday due to illness. Both are hopeful they'll play on Thursday night.
Nate Robinson led the way on Monday with 20 points, just one game after he single-handedly spearheaded the comeback in Game 4 with 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Brooklyn received plenty of balanced effort in Game 5. Brook Lopez paced the Nets with 28 points and 10 rebounds, but Deron Williams also had 23 points and 10 assists.
Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson both had double figures off the bench and the Brooklyn frontcourt played better. Gerald Wallace netted 12 points, while Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries combined for 12 points and 18 rebounds at the big forward spot.
And then, there's Joe Johnson. He played a team-high 39:11 on Monday and managed 11 points. Johnson is enduring a painful bout of plantar fascitis.
"He's got a lot of pain. That's what warriors do. Everybody doesn't do that," said interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo. "They know what he's going through."
"They" would be the Bulls. Starting center Joakim Noah is also battling the painful affliction that is often described as the feeling of walking on glass.
Yes, the Heat loom in the next round, and even though the Bulls are up in this series, it could be a long way before this matchup is decided.
"We're pretty close to each other. We finished four and five," said Carlesimo. "I think both teams have reason to be confident."
The Bulls are 8-1 as the host in the last nine games in this matchup.
If needed, Game 7 would be Saturday in Brooklyn.