Bulls fall to Nets

After a tough first half, the Bulls responded with a 39-point third quarter, but were ultimately unable to close the gap between the two teams.
Zach LaVine dunks against the Nets
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

New York can be a confusing place. After all, where else does it cost $25 for a corned beef sandwich and $15 for a Rolex? You know, where traffic signals are rough guidelines and pressing on your car horn is merely a greeting. Where you're likely to meet someone on the street who tells you, "Welcome; now get out of here." Sort of like Kyrie Irving did Friday night in Brooklyn, waving goodbye with 54 points in a 133-118 Nets destruction of the Bulls.

Irving without much resistance as Kris Dunn suffered a knee injury 13 seconds into the game, made 19 of 23 shots with seven of nine threes, ending the first half with five points and a steal in 4.9 seconds for a 16-point lead, and then scoring 10 straight fourth quarter points when the Bulls dared reduce a 21-point deficit to six.

BullsTV recap: Bulls at Nets

"He was on fire," said Spencer Dinwiddie. "Ten for 10 in the first half, 19 for 23 for the game, right? Only Mike (Michael Jordan), Wilt (Chamberlain), and (now) Ky did it. So we just witnessed history." Irving played just 32 minutes and his 82.6 percent shooting marked the highest percentage in a 50-point game since Michael Jordan shot 82.8 percent while scoring 52 points in 1988.

That was enough to send the Bulls to Toronto with a 19-32 record and Dunn back to Chicago for further examination. He joins Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., Daniel Gafford, and Lauri Markkanen as injured spectators. The seventh-place Nets are 21-26. The Bulls now are three and a half games—and five in the loss column—behind Orlando for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"I thought we battled," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "We hung in there. I think we got it within six points and we were right there. We couldn't make enough plays there in that moment to take the lead. I thought a lot of guys competed. I liked our effort and I liked our focus. I thought we were trying.

It just sucks to see anybody get injured, but especially a good friend and somebody that is doing things throughout the NBA. He's been in my, our opinion… if our record was better, he'd get more national coverage. I think he's an all-league defender.

Zach LaVine on Dunn

"He (Irving) made threes," said Boylen. "He made contested threes. That got him going early. I thought we needed to pick him up higher, but we didn't. He got into a groove and sometimes it's hard to break the guy in a groove. That being said, we were right in the game. NBA games are spurts games. The Brooklyn Nets are a spurt team, and they got the final spurt."

Though except for a spirited third quarter in which the Bulls scored 39 points and reduced the Nets lead to 103-96—no, there wasn't much defense in this one—it often seemed like the Nets were toying with the Bulls as Jarrett Allen once took a breakaway lob pass and missed it trying to do a backwards slam dunk.

So the Bulls didn't give up, especially after it looks like they had trailing 59-38 midway through the third quarter. But then the Nets would bring back Irving and it was like the Doctor operating in a surgical removal of the Bulls hopes.

Zach LaVine holds the ball against the Brooklyn Nets

"Try to take the ball out of his hands," Zach LaVine said about what the Bulls could have done against Irving. "We didn't get it accomplished."

Not that the Bulls really even tried much. Their pressure defense is targeted when a team goes into a pick and roll. Irving is so quick and such an accomplished dribbler he routinely breaks down defenders. The Bulls mostly left single defenders on Irving to keep the Nets, a high volume three-point shooting team, from getting on a run with threes. Though with Irving scoring like that, zig-zagging through defenders like they were traffic cones, there wasn't much defense without the Bulls' two best defenders, Carter and Dunn. The Bulls defense has sunk without them as they're in the bottom third in opponent shooting. Every one of the teams in the bottom third has a losing record.

The Bulls recovered some after a porous first half when the attacking Nets had 40 points in the paint on a relay race of drives for layups. But even with the third quarter threat, the Bulls never were really close enough to get their first lead of the game.

I think we got it within six points and we were right there. We couldn't make enough plays there in that moment to take the lead. I thought a lot of guys competed. I liked our effort and I liked our focus.

Coach Boylen

"We were getting our (butt) whooped in the first (half)," said LaVine, pausing and then adding: "Didn't change a lot at the end of the game."

It's a grand NBA tradition for players snubbed for the All-Star game to deliver a "Look what you missed" performance immediately after the announcement. Irving had been running as a potential starter in early fan voting. But with so many games missed, player and media voting knocked him out of the fan vote for starters and the coaches left him off their ballots, like LaVine, given the Nets losing record. Irving made his "I'm an All-Star" statement at the expense of the Bulls.

LaVine did lead the Bulls with 22 points. And he also tied Tomas Satoransky for the assists lead with eight as the Nets crowded, double teamed, trapped and pressured LaVine in a strategy he sees even more now with all the injuries. LaVine's All-Star eligibility detractors always say his are relatively meaningless points because someone has to score on a losing team and it's more difficult to score when you are with a superstar scorer who monopolizes the offense. But it's perhaps even more difficult to score when the opposition, as with LaVine pretty much every game now, decides those other guys don't have enough to win if you can limit LaVine. Yet it was LaVine with 13 third quarter points giving the Bulls some hope and the Nets some competition.

Kornet goes up to shoot against the Nets

Luke Kornet had a good showing with 19 points, but he and Cristiano Felicio are at a disadvantage when the Bulls trap in trying to recover and get baseline help. It enabled the Nets in the first half to pick apart the Bulls with driving scores. Though the Nets shoot a lot of threes at sixth in the league, they're adept at moving without the ball and slashing to the rim. The Bulls are getting more scoring depth as teams harass LaVine. Satoransky had 15 points and Thaddeus Young 14. Shaquille Harrison had 12 in 11 minutes with reserves taking turns on Irving with Dunn out. Coby White had 11 points coming off his Rising Stars game snub.

White's three late in the third and then one early in the fourth got the Bulls with 107-99 and looking at maybe yet another miracle comeback like against the Cavs and Wizards. It happens to losing teams. But White missed open threes on back to back possessions with the Nets missing two free throws and committing another of many (20) lazy turnovers. Make those and suddenly it's a two-point game. Instead, it still was Nets by eight. They called timeout with 9:14 left and signaled for Irving. Six minutes later after Irving's latest onslaught and those first 10, the Nets led by 21 points and Irving was dancing his way off with his club 54. Former Bull Dinwiddie added 20 as Irving's backup. Tough to overcome a 74-26 deficit at one position.

Coby White attempts a layup against the Nets

And it's going to be difficult to face yet another injury, though Gafford could return Sunday in Toronto.

That's three of the Bulls five starters from opening night and four of their top eight out injured with LaVine attempting to keep the palace door bolted. They're storming the gates.

LaVine hasn't missed a game and is second in the league in minutes played. Though he scored at least 20 points in a 17th consecutive game, more than any Bulls player other than Michael Jordan, the strain and demands seem to be having an effect. LaVine has been shooting around 40 percent on threes all season, but he is two of his last 17 and five of 26 on threes the last three games. Three-point shooting is generally associated with leg strength. At least if you know how to shoot.

But the immediate concern for the Bulls was the health of Dunn, their best individual defender and the league leader in total steals. Boylen said the Bulls wouldn't have an update on Dunn's condition until he is examined in Chicago this weekend. Dunn was hurt on the game's first play when Young took a charge and fell into Dunn's knee as he fell.

Hutchison attempts a dunk against the Nets

It soon was 9-2 Nets and 30-16 before you could say, What are you lookin' at?

"It just sucks to see anybody get injured, but especially a good friend and somebody that is doing things throughout the NBA," LaVine said about Dunn. "He's been in my, our opinion…if our record was better, he'd get more national coverage. I think he's an all-league defender. He's tops in steals. He guards the best player each and every night. Sometimes he takes them out, makes it tough for them. He's meant a lot for us, toughest dude on the team, not scared of anybody. It sucks."

And not just New York.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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