Saturday nights 83-82 Bulls (13-9) win over the Nets (13-10) at the United Center was a story weve seen before: The undermanned squad, playing an opponent with supposedly more talent on paper and featuring a former player, this time C.J. Watson used a formula of offensive balance, timely contributions from an unexpected source, determination to fight back with the odds against them and of course, Tom Thibodeaus vaunted defense, to earn a hard-fought victory.
Two Joakim Noah (12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) dunks the second of which, over Brooklyn counterpart Brook Lopez (18 points, 10 rebounds), was highlight-worthy started the Bulls off on a positive note, as the hosts scored the games first six points and hit their first five shots from the field. In addition to Noah, fellow starters Carlos Boozer (15 points, six rebounds) and Marco Belinelli (19 points) also had good starts, enabling the Bulls to build a cushion in the early going.
While Lopez, whos dealing with health issues, found his groove as a scorer early, as did point guard Deron Williams (24 points, five assists), half of Brooklyns All-Star backcourt Joe Johnson (16 points), the Nets marquee offseason acquisition, picked up two quick fouls and took a seat on the bench the visitors looked sluggish overall, perhaps a byproduct of playing a double-overtime game the previous evening. That changed as the opening period waned on, as Williams outside marksmanship made it a close-knit affair and at the end of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed, 24-23, despite Boozer carrying the offensive load.
The game remained tight in the second frame, as backup point guards Marquis Teague in for Nate Robinson, who started in place of the injured Kirk Hinrich, but picked up two quick fouls and Watson, the former Bull in his first game back in Chicago, went at it. Teagues speed and ability to score in transition, were immediately evident and matched up with an elite player at his position in Williams, he held his own on the defensive end.
The tenor of the contest suited the home teams defensive sensibilities, even as their field-goal percentage dropped on the other side of the ball, necessitating putting the clamps on their guests offensive intentions. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 46-41 advantage, with Nets backup big man Andray Blatche making an impact for the guests.
After the break, Belinellis efficient scoring and underrated playmaking helped the Bulls start the third quarter positively, but after flirting with acquiring a double-digit lead, the hosts allowed Brooklyn to get back into the game. Behind the play of Lopez, Williams, Johnson and veteran Gerald Wallace, the Nets significantly cut into the deficit, eventually overtaking their hosts.
In what evolved into a defensive struggle, the Bulls took control late in the frame to once again build some breathing room, with Belinelli, Luol Deng (17 points, seven rebounds) and reserve Taj Gibson serving as catalysts. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 67-62 lead, following a Deng jumper with 2.9 seconds left in the frame.
The Bulls lead proved to be tenuous as the fourth quarter began, as the visitors quickly regained the momentum in the contest, buoyed by the point production of Johnson. Put into the position of playing from behind after the Nets built a slim cushion, but led by the play of Teague, who continued to display poise beyond his 19 years, the Bulls made it a nip-and-tuck game heading into the stretch run.
Critical unforced errors appeared to be the hosts ultimate undoing late in the contest, but after a Belinelli fast-break layup cut it to 79-77, in Brooklyns favor, with 1:26 remaining, the Bulls tied the game at 79 with 1:01 left, on a Deng dunk in transition from a slick Teague assist after a Nets turnover.
Following a defensive stop on the other end, a Belinelli driving layup gave the Bulls an 81-79 advantage with 22.1 seconds to go, leading to yet another clutch defensive stop and two free throws by Belinelli to seal the deal, which ended up being necessary for the winning margin, as Williams hit a three-pointer at the buzzer.