NEW YORK—This is why they play the games, as the old adage goes.
On paper, it seemed as if the Bulls had drawn a favorable first-round playoff matchup against the Nets, a team they had beaten three out of four times during the regular season, while undermanned at that.
But the postseason, as players and coaches are fond of saying, is different, something the Nets made evident Saturday evening at the first-ever playoff game at the Barclays Center, as they throttled the Bulls in Game 1 of their opening-round series, 106-89, giving Brooklyn a 1-0 series lead.
With former league MVP Derrick Rose sitting on the Bulls’ bench in street clothes and All-Star center Joakim Noah (four points, five rebounds, one blocked shot in 14 minutes) making a surprise appearance in the starting lineup, the visitors navigated a choppy start to the contest to keep things close in the early going.
Carlos Boozer (game-high 25 points, eight rebounds, four assists), who was dominant against the Nets during the regular season, was the Bulls’ catalyst, but the scoring of Brooklyn floor general Deron Williams (22 points, seven assists), as well as interior scoring from All-Star center Brook Lopez (21 points, three blocks) and the rebounding exploits of blue-collar power forward Reggie Evans (13 rebounds), allowed the hosts to build a slim cushion.
While Boozer was effective early and Brooklyn native Taj Gibson came off the bench to give the Bulls a boost—replacing Noah, who appeared rusty, but moved decently in his initial stint, which lasted a little over half of the opening period—the inside-outside duo of Lopez and Williams proved difficult to stifle.
Brooklyn’s lead ballooned to double digits as the opening quarter went on and after the first frame, the Bulls faced a 25-14 deficit.
Woeful shooting, unforced miscues and defensive lapses continued to mark the visitors’ play, though the instant-offense stylings of Nate Robinson (17 points) ensured that things didn’t get out of hand for the time being, as the Bulls briefly employed a small-ball lineup that also featured veteran Rip Hamilton in the backcourt, with Jimmy Butler (13 points) and All-Star Luol Deng at the forwards, and Gibson at center, until the team’s top reserve picked up his third foul.
Robinson and Bulls predecessor C.J. Watson (14 points) engaged in a mini-scoring battle, which played into the hosts’ favor, and as the combination of Williams and Lopez continued to dominate the action for the Nets, putting their guests, who had no semblance of an offensive rhythm, in an even deeper hole as halftime approached.
Watson and veteran small forward Gerald Wallace (14 points) also contributed for Brooklyn, whose onslaught persisted and lead grew accordingly, and despite Marco Belinelli (13 points) coming off the bench in an effort to staunch the bleeding, the Bulls trailed, 60-35, at the intermission.
After the break, Noah started the third quarter and while he promptly got on the board, little changed on the scoreboard, as Wallace, a former All-Star, began to make his presence felt, keeping the Nets’ wide margin of separation intact.
Boozer’s solid play remained the Bulls’ saving grace, but with Brooklyn getting more varied contributions, such as scoring from Joe Johnson (16 points) and off the bench from talented backup big man Andray Blatche (12 points), the Bulls were unable to make much of a dent in the lopsided score.
Meanwhile, Noah gave a valiant effort, but simply wasn’t as mobile as usual, which happens to be an important staple of his game, and with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter, he was replaced by Gibson, never to return.
Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were behind, 89-62, a result of the Nets’ gaudy shooting numbers, rebounding advantage and overall interior dominance, with the exception of Boozer, who was putting on a low-post clinic offensively.
Adding injury to insult was the news that starting point guard Kirk Hinrich suffered a left-thigh bruise toward the end of the previous frame and as the fourth quarter began, his status was questionable and he didn’t return to the contest.
The game remained a laugher, with Watson getting an opportunity to show his former team what they were missing and the evening’s national-anthem singer Jerry Stackhouse, a deep reserve and the Nets’ elder statesman, receiving extended minutes.
Robinson, ever the competitor, both engaged in mild skirmishes with former Bulls Bogans and Watson, and went on an abbreviated version of one of his individual scoring spurts, but it was too little and far too late, as Brooklyn put to rest any theories about their interior toughness—the Nets enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in points in the paint—as well as shooting a gaudy 55.8 percent from the field and placing six players in double figures, against one of the most vaunted defenses in the league.