Bulls beat Nets 118-102

The Bulls let a big early lead slip away, were challenged in the fourth quarter and pulled away in a 118-102 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

The Bulls were led by Doug McDermott with 25 points and five of eight three pointers. McDermott has been the team’s most reliable scorer the last three games, averaging 24.7 points with three games of at least 20 points and 12 of 19 on threes. Jimmy Butler had 22 points, Bobby Portis had 12 points and 14 rebounds and Cristiano Felicio added 10 rebounds.

The Bulls had a 50-39 rebounding edge and had 26 assists and pulled away late after the Nets cut a 24-point deficit to five to start the fourth quarter.

The Bulls are 34-33 and the Nets fell to 19-49.

It was encouraging for the Bulls that Taj Gibson was well enough to play on his sore hamstring. He began at center and the Bulls started fast, pushing the ball into a pair of scores before the defense set. But then they reverted to walking the ball into the front court in what became a lethargic first quarter with too much isolation dribble and shoot. It didn’t change much until Justin Holiday and McDermott came in and began moving, seeming to wake their somnambulant teammates with an 11-0 run to close the first quarter with a 24-14 lead.

The Bulls looked like they were going to blow this one open in the second quarter, though this Bulls team is well experienced relaxing when it does get a lead. With McDermott still having the range and Bobby Portis adding some strength inside, the Bulls bullied their way out to a 41-21 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bulls stretched that out to 47-23 on a Butler lob dunk from a Mike Dunleavy pass and a pair of Taj Gibson scores, the second on an open red carpet runway to a dunk. The Bulls as they tend to do eased off and Brooklyn scored seven straight before the Bulls closed the half leading 55-37 behind McDermott’s 13 points and a three rimmed out to end the half.

But there it went again as the Bulls eased off. It started with the often failure to box out, a fatal flaw all season that enabled the Nets start the third quarter with a 9-4 start thanks to three offensive rebounds for scores. Then the Nets scored on nine consecutive possessions, making jumper after jumper with nice ball movement to for a 19-12 stretch that cut the Bulls lead into single digits. And suddenly it was a strain as Portis missed a dunk on a three on one break and the jump shots all began to come out up. Butler returned to get a few foul calls and free throws that enabled the Bulls to hang onto a 79-74 lead entering the fourth quarter.

The Bulls got some offense going to start the fourth quarter, but still could not stop the Nets rushing at them with the same transition defense issues that led to the loss in Washington as the Nets hung within 90-85 three minutes into the fourth even as the Bulls scored in five of their first six possessions of the quarter. But the Bulls got some breathing room on a McDermott runner and Rose underhanded lefty scoop pass on the run for a Portis dunk that gave the Bulls a 97-87 lead with 6:28 left. The Bulls could finally breathe with three minutes left after McDermott and Rose threes gave the Bulls a 109-96 lead.