BROOKLYN—Maybe it was the Christmas spirit, but the Bulls looked like a cohesive, free-flowing offensive bunch, while maintaining their trademark defense Wednesday afternoon, as a third-quarter run helped them dismantle the Nets, 95-78, at the Barclays Center.
A slow, sloppy start to the contest—perhaps due to the early tip or even the sleeved, pajama-like holiday jerseys issued by the NBA—manifested itself in a high number of early turnovers by both teams.
However, while the Nets (9-19) shot a gaudy percentage from the floor, leading in a slim lead, the visiting Bulls (11-16) endured poor early shooting, though they were able to stay afloat behind the play of the interior tandem of Carlos Boozer (14 points, six rebounds) and Joakim Noah (10 points, eight rebounds, three assists). Jimmy Butler (15 points), who returned to the lineup after missing Saturday’s home win over Cleveland, also fared well in the first quarter, showing no ill effects from his sprained right ankle.
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Taj Gibson (20 points, eight rebounds) provided a spark off the bench with his scoring and with fellow reserve D.J. Augustin’s (13 points, five assists) playmaking—the point guard came off the bench, as Kirk Hinrich returned from a five –game absence due to a back ailment—the Bulls were able to trim the gap, though they still trailed, 23-21, after the opening period.
Although the Bulls briefly seized the lead early in the second frame, they subsequently went on a scoring drought of over four minutes, though they didn’t lose much ground, as Brooklyn also struggled offensively, keeping it a close-knit affair midway through the quarter.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau made his initial foray into experimenting with an Augustin-Hinrich dual point-guard pairing and it paid dividends, as the team’s offense improved and even had a rare alley-oop, with Noah finding Gibson for a high-flying lob and finish between the native New Yorkers. Nets point guard Deron Williams kept his team in the game, but at the intermission, the Bulls held a 41-38 advantage, after a Mike Dunleavy Jr. (13 points, seven rebounds) tip-in with nine seconds remaining in the first half.
After the break, the Nets rallied at the start of the third quarter, briefly taking the lead before the Bulls got in gear again, as the wing duo of Butler and Dunleavy, as well as Boozer, sparked the squad. After Brooklyn drew as close as 54-52, the Bulls surged to a comfortable double-digit lead, buoyed by a 23-4 extended run before a dunk by Nets backup power forward Reggie Evans with seconds left in the period.
The only negative in the period was Butler getting shaken up after a hard foul in transition by the rugged Evans—the athletic swingman took his time getting up and appeared to be favoring his injured right leg afterwards, but stayed in the contest—but heading into the final stanza, the Bulls maintained a formidable 77-58 edge, with no signs of slowing down.
The reserve pairing of Augustin and Gibson continued to affect the game for the Bulls—the diminutive floor general with his passing and scoring, while the Brooklyn-born big man dominated on the interior—keeping the margin of separation between the two teams wide. Besides Williams, the only effective Nets scorer was backup forward Mirza Teletovic, a seldom-used player before All-Star center Brook Lopez’s recent season-ending broken foot, and the team’s defense was virtually non-existent.
The Bulls blended stifling defense and efficient, somewhat aesthetically-pleasing offense to continue controlling the contest through its conclusion, commencing a two-game winning streak, a rarity this season.