Bulls Hold Off Nets Late 79-76 To Take Series Lead
Hot starts won’t do much for teams if their accuracy from the field fizzles out. We learned that from Brooklyn tonight as they began the game leading Chicago 17-6 but quickly started to suffer as the Bulls vintage defense showed up.
Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler, Carlos Boozer, and Kirk Hinrich were your starters for Chicago, along with Joakim Noah, again with a 25-minute restriction.
Gerald Wallace, Reggie Evans, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson began the game for Brooklyn, along with Deron Williams who is no stranger to the United Center.
As a former Fighting Illini, Williams had much success in Chicago going 11-0 at the UC while playing college ball for Illinois. When on a visiting team in the NBA, the result hasn’t been the same. Although Williams’ performance was a great improvement from game two, scoring 18 tonight, the win column is the only thing that counts in the playoffs.
The start of the game belonged to the Nets as the Bulls began with fouls, turnovers and nothing much else until midway through the first as momentum began to switch sides. As the Nets began to miss inside, the Bulls took advantage making a 11-0 run initiated by a Nazr Mohammed lob to Boozer low and in the lane to get the ball movement going. Closing the lead was a three by Deng, and a beautiful uncontested drive through the lane and in by Hinrich. After, he then proceeded to put the Bulls ahead 18-17 with a pair of free throws just before the first quarter came to a close.
Chicago started the second as strong as they finished the first. Hinrich, Deng and Boozer making the long jumpers on one end and doing work rebounding on the other. Taj Gibson played dramatics for the bulls with a dunk in the lane over Kris Humphries.
While Bulls were keeping it consistent in the second quarter on offense, they were even grittier on defense holding the Nets to 20% from the field. It didn’t help Brooklyn’s cause that they were mishandling the ball all over the court. Wallace did beat the buzzer for a Nets’ three pointer as they went into the half 41-34 Bulls leading.
Despite that shot, momentum stayed with Chicago. The Bulls made it difficult for ball movement between the Nets. There were bright spots for Brooklyn with several blocks occurring in the third quarter but it just wasn’t their night as those plays were simultaneously fouled. Boozer and Deng combined for twenty in the third while the entire Nets team only scored 18.
When they seemed to be in the clear the Bulls slowly retreated and weren’t playing to win anymore, but rather trying to just hold off defeat. Lopez, Johnson, Brooks and Watson made an 8-0 run and an attempt to come to back. It almost looked possible as Chicago continued to miss free throws when the desperation fouls began to trickle in. With a foul to give and six seconds on the clock, the plan seemed obvious but without getting the ref to call one Watson got the ball and an open look beyond the arc, but failed to put the game into over time.
Bulls did get help with several assists and tip-ins from Mohammed. As for the starters, the big players for Chicago were Boozer who ended with 22 points and 16 boards while Deng had 21 and 10. While Noah finished with just a free-throw, he helped out with 8 rebounds and a definite presence during his minutes. For every matchup the Bulls outplayed their Nets’ counterpart. Despite having a lead of 17 at one point they finished with only a 3 on the Nets. That will hopefully keep the Bulls plenty grounded as the enter game 4 on Saturday, tip at 1:00pm.