NEW YORK—A sight for sore eyes it wasn’t, but the grind-it-out nature of Monday night’s Game 2 of the Bulls-Nets first-round playoff series at the Barclays Center was right up the alley of the visitors from the Windy City.
After a dreadful Game 1 outing Saturday, the Bulls roared back, as a collective effort led by their typically strong defense, a balanced bench scoring and an inspirational performance from Joakim Noah resulted in an 90-82 victory to send the series back to Chicago tied at one game apiece.
An aggressive Luol Deng (15 points, 10 rebounds) and a vastly-improved defensive effort helped the Bulls jump out to an early edge, as the Nets, who played relatively mistake-free basketball in the series opener, had ball-security issues at the outset of the second game.
[WATCH: Noah guts out Game 2 performance]
Brooklyn’s Gerald Wallace, Deng’s small-forward counterpart, made his presence felt on both ends of the floor at the beginning of the game, building upon a strong Game 1 performance, but had to take a seat after picking up his second foul in the first quarter.
Two Bulls also made brief initial appearances—starting point guard Kirk Hinrich (13 points, five assists) picked up a pair of quick fouls himself, while Noah (11 points, 10 rebounds, three assists in 26 minutes), playing with a minutes restriction, was substituted for, too—but the game was set more to the visitors’ pace and helped them maintain an advantage, as Carlos Boozer (13 points, 12 rebounds) started quickly again and reserves Nate Robinson (11 points) and Nazr Mohammed, in for the aforementioned duo, provided a boost, too.
Despite Joe Johnson (17 points) equaling Deng’s scoring output, the Bulls ended the opening period with a 20-17 lead.
As the second quarter opened, Deng continued to lead the way for the guests, sparking a second unit that also received positive contributions from Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson, though the latter picked up three fouls in only four minutes of action.
But although the Bulls clung to their advantage, the hosts made a push behind the interior duo of center Brook Lopez (21 points) and backup power forward Kris Humphries—infamous for his short-lived marriage to reality TV star Kim Kardashian—as well as former Bulls point guard C.J. Watson (10 points, five assists).
As Lopez repeatedly knocked down outside jumpers, Brooklyn briefly took its first lead of the contest, as Noah, with his limited mobility, struggled to defend his All-Star counterpart and wasn’t able to effectively strike back on the other end.
The visitors were able to regain control of the contest, but after a Watson triple from the corner at the halftime buzzer, their advantage was slim, 47-46.
After the break, the Bulls extended their winning margin, as Boozer and Hinrich propelled them offensively and Noah finally got on the board, getting off to a much better start in the second half.
Crucial to the visitors maintaining their cushion was the defensive effort on Brooklyn floor general Deron Williams (eight points, 10 assists), who didn’t hit a shot from the field until nearly the midway point of the third quarter—though he did have eight first-half assists—which helped the Bulls continue to control the tempo of the game.
After Noah picked up his third and fourth fouls, he was replaced by Mohammed, who once again made an immediate impact on the offensive end, aiding the Bulls as they built a double-digit advantage and seized complete momentum of the contest, quieting the home crowd.
Due to their balanced offense, significant contributions off the bench and stifling defense—Brooklyn shot 2-for-19 from the field in the period—the Bulls headed into the final stanza ahead, 69-57.
The competitive matchup of backup point guards Robinson and Watson—something that occurred between the two during the regular-season series and again in Game 1—seemingly sparked the Nets at the outset of the fourth quarter, as they sliced into the deficit and made it a single-digit affair.
But the resilient visitors didn’t wilt and the hobbled Noah was a major factor—his dunk, remarkable baseline save and putback energized his teammates—in a 7-0 spurt that gave the Bulls another double-digit lead, though the Nets stormed back with an 8-0 run of their own behind the play of Johnson, who had been quiet since the opening period.
As the game entered its stretch run, the Bulls two All-Stars showed up, as a Deng jumper and a Noah layup off the dribble gave the Bulls some breathing room, making it an 86-78 game before a Noah block that ended up going out of bounds off Brooklyn helped seal the deal.
Fittingly, the Noah secured a rebound to finish with a double-double in the game's waning seconds, proving that his mind-over-matter mentality was truly for the best, as he got an NBA win under his belt in Brooklyn, a place where he played countless times during his childhood in New York City.