Prior to the season, Bulls and Nets on Christmas Day seemed like a great way to kick off a five-game feast of games that would conveniently keep me occupied during family festivities. Instead, the matchup turned into a punch line heading into Christmas thanks to injuries and a whole hell of a lot of underachieving. The prospect of the goofy sleeved jerseys didn't help matters.
For the first half of the game, Bulls/Nets basically lived down to its billing. The play was sloppy, the shooting was poor and the pace was slow. Things did swing back and forth a bit as each team went through stretches of general incompetence, and it was the Bulls who came out ahead at the break, 41-38.
But the third quarter was a whole different story. The Bulls resembled a juggernaut on both sides of the ball, while the Nets laid yet another epic third quarter turd after a brief hot stretch from Mirza Teletovic at the outset of the half. Once the damage was done, the Bulls finished with 36 points in the quarter and opened up a 19-point lead. They cruised the rest of the way to a 95-78 victory, although Tom Thibodeau naturally gave us something to whine about by leaving Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson in until there was just a couple minutes left. #ThibsBall.
The Bulls got really balanced scoring, with Taj Gibson leading six players in double figures with 20 points. Two of those points came on this:
Butler had 15 points in his return to the lineup from a sprained ankle, with 11 of those coming in the game-deciding third quarter. Butler made things happen on both ends of the floor during the huge quarter, although there was a brief injury scare when Reggie Evans made a sneaky dirty play by gently shoving the Bulls swingman in the back when he was in the air going up for a layup. Luckily, Butler shook off the hard fall, which had him limping for a short while.
Kirk Hinrich also returned to the lineup after missing five games with back spasms. Hinrich didn't do much of note, although he did make three of his five shot attempts and also stuffed an iso-Joe Johnson attempt. Kirk only played 20 minutes, which either could have been the Bulls being cautious or Thibs just riding D.J. Augustin, who delivered yet another stellar outing. Augustin had 13 points and five assists off the bench, making 4-of-7 overall and 2-of-4 overall. It's quite something to see Augustin be a competent player after several disastrous years, but then I remembered John Lucas III (Nate as well) and it kind of makes sense. If you're an aggressive point guard, you can look good in Thibs' offense. Marquis Teague on the other hand...
Speaking of bad, let's talk about the Nets. This team is an absolute train wreck without Brook Lopez. Deron Williams is still a good point guard, but it's hard to call him elite because of his chronic ankle injuries. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are so damn old and slow. Johnson has his days, but iso-Joe is just hard to watch. The bench stinks. And Jason Kidd just doesn't seem to have a clue. yfBB noted during the game that Kidd's huddles are VDN-esque, and the consistently terrible third quarters are an indictment on his coaching as well. But the great thing about the Nets being awful are the constant shots of Kidd derp face/facepalm action on the bench.
So the Bulls have won two straight games in convincing fashion, and both came without Luol Deng. It's crazy to think that Augustin may be the catalyst here, but he's so much better than Teague that it may just be true. We'll see if it keeps up.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, fellow BaBers.