Well, that could have been worse.
Completing their first winning streak since Derrick Rose got hurt, the Bulls managed to avoid embarrassing themselves on what will almost certainly be the biggest stage they play on this season, throttling the Nets in the second half and leaving Brooklyn at 11-16, good enough to insert themselves back into the playoff picture.
This game was every bit the slog we assumed it would be in the first half, as the Bulls used a late second quarter run to pull ahead 41-38 at the break before a 36 point third quarter put the game out of reach for good. The Nets, pressured both by some of the best pick and roll defense of the season from the Bulls and their own inadequacy, shot 35% from the field, 29% from deep and a crippling 74% from the line en route to a 78 point outing. They were led by 18 points on 6-10 shooting from Deron Williams, 12 points on 5-11 shooting from Joe Johnson and 17 points on 7-11 shooting from new starting power forward Mirza Teletovic, who went on a personal 10 point run in the third quarter that threatened to keep the game close for a while. The Bulls went on a 12-0 run soon after that seemed to crush all resistance. It was 77-58 Bulls after three quarters.
The Bulls, meanwhile, had their second straight objectively good offensive performance, led by some stupendously weak interior defense from Brooklyn, who seems to have no idea what they’re doing on that end. No matter how bad the defense is, players still have to hit shots, which the Bulls did today, and in very balanced fashion. Every player who logged at least 10 minutes scored. Seven of them scored in double figures, led by Taj Gibson’s 20 points, 8 boards, 2 assists and 2 blocks (9-15 from the floor) and Jimmy Butler’s 15, 5 boards, and 4 assists (4-10, 2-4 from 3, 5-6 FT). Butler and Gibson both asserted themselves in the second half, with Jimmy’s burst catalyzing the extended 24-2 run in the third quarter. Carlos Boozer paced the team in the first half, finishing with 14 points and 6 boards in 25 minutes. Mike Dunleavy had 13 on 5-10 shooting, D.J. Augustin continued his run of pretty good play with 13 points and 5 assists, Kirk Hinrich had 6 points on 3-5 shooting, and Joakim Noah had a solid line with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals on 3-8 shooting. All in all, one of the better performances of the season for the Bulls, who now have something to build on, however small, in an attempt to secure a playoff spot. A few more games like this and it’ll be wrapped up before the All-Star break.
Player(s) of the Game: Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson