Back in February, a depleted Bulls team took on a fully stocked Nets squad and nearly beat them in a low scoring, grind-it-out affair. On Thursday night at the Barclays Center, a depleted Bulls team took on a fully stocked Nets squad and BEAT them 92-90 thanks to a huge game from Carlos Boozer and a late floater by Nate Robinson.
What was an unwatchable game early became quite riveting in the second half, with the fourth quarter providing plenty of excitement. Boozer and Deron Williams got into a little scoring duel, with each guy trading big bucket after big bucket. Joe Johnson also awoke from his slumber, knocking down several huge threes in the quarter, including one to put the Nets up 88-86 with just over a minute left.
After Boozer split a pair of free throws, Williams nailed a clutch basket over Luol Deng, and it looked like the Bulls were about to lose another tough one. But Deng answered with a long two, and after a woeful Brook Lopez turnover, Nate played hero with a Derrick Rose-esque floater (HE'S "CLOSE" EVERYBODY). Lopez then pissed down his leg a few more times, ruining what had been a pretty strong performance up to that point (28 points on 10-of-19 shooting).
Boozer really was great in this one, finishing with a stupendous line of 29 points and 18 rebounds on 12-of-22 shooting. P.J. Carlesimo was content with sticking Reggie Evans on Boozer, and Carlos himself was content to just shoot jumpers over the shorter Evans. We all know Boozer has trouble with length and athleticism, but Evans really doesn't have either of those things, so this was a nice matchup for Carlos.
Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng also had strong games after slow starts, with Deng finishing with 18 points and Butler pouring in 16 points and 10 rebounds. Both guys hit big shots in the fourth quarter, and they also both took turns trying to guard Williams. They weren't always successful, but Jimmy did an especially nice job in the final minute, denying Williams easy access to the rim on multiple occasions. Butler also did this in the fourth quarter:
Things certainly weren't that peachy early on, with the Nets storming out of the gates behind a monstrous start from Lopez. With Joakim Noah still sidelined, Lopez went at Nazr Mohammed early and often, knocking down a variety of shots en route to 18 first quarter points. Meanwhile, the Bulls' offense found themselves in one of their patented "stuck in the mud" routines on offense, resulting in a 13-point deficit after one.
But as they often do, the Bulls never quit, hanging around despite having no semblance of a bench. Vlad Rad and Daequan Cook were both useless, and we didn't even see Malcolm Thomas or Marquis Teague. The Nets did get their lead back up to 11 at the half, but it felt like a game where the Bulls were going to make a push.
The Bulls indeed made their push in the third quarter, bolstered by a complete team effort led by Boozer. Boozer had 10 point and seven rebounds in the third, while Deng, Butler and even Kirk Hinrich also chipped in. Hinrich would of course screw himself over with several stupid fouls, including his mind-numbingly dumb foul of Williams at the end of the third after Butler had tied the game. But the Bulls were able to overcome Hinrich's silly fouls thanks to the superb effort from the other guys.
This win was Thibs Ball at its finest, with the Bulls grinding out a game they really had no business winning. They easily could have packed up the tents after the terrible start, but they fought hard and out-hustled the Nets for most of the game. Despite Noah and Taj Gibson being out, the Bulls out-rebounded the Nets 46-30. That included 13 offensive rebounds for the Bulls, all by Boozer, Deng, Butler and Nazr Mohammed. It's also worth noting that Mohammed really held his own on Lopez as the game went on, not giving in after getting embarrassed at the outset.
As for the Nets, they proved once again what yfBB and I have been saying about them pretty much all year: that they're a fraud. There's no excuse for losing to this Bulls team at home after such a great start, but they managed to do just that. Outside of Williams (30 points and 10 assists), they were sloppy, uninspired and basically just awful from the second quarter on. Evans and Gerald Wallace are complete nothings on offense, the bench is inconsistent and Johnson has been erratic/hurt this year. I know a lot of people want the Bulls to get the No. 6 seed, but I kind of want to see this Nets team in the first round. I almost guarantee a relatively healthy Bulls team beats the Nets in a playoff series.
The Bulls do play again tomorrow against the Magic, and we'll see how much they have in the tank after exerting so much energy tonight. The Bulls have shown the ability to play well on the second of a back-to-back and the Magic are tanking, so I'd say there's a good chance at another win.