The Bulls won their third straight game on Thursday, taking down the Nets 92-76. Beating the Nets is always fun, and I think the Bulls themselves were pretty into it during the game. As the final contest before the All-Star break, and with the Nets having played the night before, this game seemed the type where the Bulls effort would carry the day. While the Bulls had a 8-10 point lead for much of the night, they didn't pull away until the final quarter. After a Nets got the deficit to 3, the Bulls immediately responded with a DJ Augustin 3-pointer (in ironically maybe his worst game as a Bull) then closed the game on a 17-4 run.
The big difference between the two teams was the Nets trying to go small while the Bulls kept 2 traditional bigs on the court at all times. This was helped by the return of Carlos Boozer, who was back in the starting lineup and allowed Thibs to at least be able to sub out Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson once in a while. And they all (Boozer included) had very good games against a Brooklyn team that started Paul Pierce at PF. Pierce actually guarded Noah, and what was interesting was that Noah kinda actually showed some of his weaknesses by not being able to do a lot of classic post-ups against a much smaller defender. Trying it had sporadic results, and for the most part the Bulls played Joakim the same way they always do, and to his strengths: far away from the rim and setting up the offense. The dribble-drives were tougher to do against a non-center, but Noah ultimately still had another great game (and fantastic finish) with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists. Boozer had 15 and 10. Taj came in and immediately went after Nets backup big Mirza Teletovic, finishing strong as well (the 4th quarter minutes still went to Taj) and wound up with a game-high 16 points.
It was that kind of game where the high was 16, as the Bulls spread the ball around well offensively and uglied up the game for Brooklyn's shooters. Jimmy Butler may have stopped shooting threes (which means he's no longer missing them,either) but has looked better lately, going 6-8 from the field and demonstrating his value even if that shot wasn't falling. Butler totally stifled Joe Johnson, All-Star (hehehehehehe), who let the 3rd year player get in his head after a his own offensive foul led to a mini-scrum between the two. After that, Johnson seemingly took a more concerted effort to go after Butler individually, and as a slowish deliberate wing player (even one as skilled as Johnson) that's not a good idea. Butler played over 46 minutes, so it's tough not to pause and appreciate his solid play as he may fall apart by the end of the season. Also in the backcourt, Kirk Hinrich wasn't quite #NationalTVKirk quality, but he did have more points than shots and made Deron Williams look injured, or at least give Nets fans hope that was the case.
After an even 3rd quarter that had an ungodly amount of turnovers (7 for the Bulls, 5 for the Nets), the defense held Brooklyn to 15 points in the 4th quarter, with Noah and Butler had 14 on their own on 7-8 shooting, leading that surge to end the game. The Bulls once again also dominated the rebounding margin, holding the small-ball Nets to 10% of their offensive rebounds, including not a single one in the entire first half.