Bulls fall to Nets in lopsided 138-112 loss

Trailing only by two at halftime, the Bulls came out flat in the second-half as the Nets pulled away.
by Sam Smith
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Let's say it was really just bad clock management that led to the Bulls gut punch 138-112 loss Wednesday to the Brooklyn Nets.

Accustomed, especially this season, to confidently striding off the United Center basketball court at about 10 p.m. and then relaxing, the Bulls seemed to follow that routine. The complication was with a rare 9 p.m. start for the national ESPN game, the Nets came back on the floor after 10 p.m. The Bulls didn't seem to.

Though the Bulls did outscore Kevin Durant 19-17 in that post 10 p.m. third quarter. The problem was seven other Nets played in that quarter, including James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the latter to give the preseason favorite Nets something of a shot in the arm. Which boosted his team and rang in the ears of the Bulls and silenced a boisterous United Center crowd with a 43-8 third quarter run into the fourth that turned the Bulls national coming out party into a bit of a wake.

Zach LaVine, like Corwallis supposedly said after Yorktown, "Just got an ass whooped; happens sometimes.

"Getting your butt kicked on national television is not a fun thing after playing a pretty solid first half," said LaVine, who led the Bulls with 22 points. "It brings you back down to earth. It's one game. You lose by two, you lose by 30, it's still a loss. You just want to go and see why you lost the way you did. Good teams come out in the third quarter and put teams to sleep. We've done that to teams before; we had it done to us tonight."

So it is disappointing, particularly with the excited home audience and the national guys finally noticing what the Bulls have been doing. Actually, lose by two would have felt a lot better than this.

It's not quite a reckoning, but it is a bit of concern despite the first place 27-12 record, a game and a half ahead of the Nets.

The Bulls thus finish the season series 2-1 against the Nets. But against the top six teams in the Eastern Conference with no games against the Bucks yet, the Bulls are 2-6. And while that recent nine-game winning streak was exciting, the Wizards at two over .500 were the winningest team. Which in some sense is the type of wakeup call that coaches like. Bulls coach Billy Donovan wasn't smiling, but he wasn't crying. "I don't think you throw it out; you own it," said Donovan. "I think our guys have worked really hard to be where we are in the standings, and with that there is even a greater responsibility, and maybe outside of DeMar (DeRozan with 19 points), I don't know if anyone else on our team has been in the standings where we are right now.

"These were some of the things I was talking about from a defensive standpoint," said Donovan, not so coincidently aware of the season worst 138 points given up on 56 percent shooting and 53 percent on threes. "We gave up transition threes, layups, second chance points; we fouled. I'm not saying the Nets didn't earn it; they clearly outplayed us. That's evident by the score. This can be something that is good for our guys because there are a lot of teams that are whole now and a lot of times with our schedule a lot of teams have not been whole. I know we're not whole, but I think there are things we can do at a higher level.

Tap to listen to postgame reactions from Bulls head coach Billy Donovan after Chicago's lopsided loss to Brooklyn.

"The best way for teams to learn is going through experiences; we have to earn our way to play in the post season," said Donovan. "These guys (this season) jelled and meshed and really did a good job. I love the responsibility that comes with where we are now. We have to understand what we're going to be getting from other teams. Some of the things I've been talking about the last eight, ten, 12 games you can see when you get into certain situations you are not going to be able to get away with that. There are things we got away with offensively we weren't able to get away with tonight. My whole focus is we have to get better."

You know, you're never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you're never as bad as they say when you lose.

Which can be the succor for the Bulls as they prepare Friday for the Golden State Warriors, though who could be without Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

But the Bulls will be without Derrick Jones, who suffered a knee injury seconds into the game and was replaced by Alfonzo McKinnie. Jones had replaced the injured Javonte Green, who was replaced at times by Alex Caruso, the latter still out with his Covid infection.

Not that those three were about to make up the 38-point deficit the Bulls faced in the fourth quarter. But they do provide the yang for LaVine and DeRozan's offensive yin that has been the Bulls life force.

Alfonzo McKinnie guards Kevin Durant.

Alfonzo McKinnie got a bump in playing time after Derrick Jones Jr. went down with a right knee injury in the opening minutes of the game.

"It just sucks DJ went down," said DeRozan. "We haven't had Alex in a while, Javonte is out. (They are) the heart and soul of our team. We kind of lean on them to bring that super edge, especially defensively we haven't had and we kind of feed off. Once we get those guys back pretty sure we'll be right where we left off at."

Not that Donovan was answering DeRozan, but he said that no one's absence had anything to do with "(not) running back in transition, blocking out, fouling (too much). We've got to get much, much better at those things."

Though DeRozan does have a point to his many points he's already produced.

The way the Bulls this season have tried to play primarily small has emphasized speed and transition, aggressive defensive play to create deflections and steals, Caruso and Lonzo Ball among the league leaders. Along with fast breaks, the sort of disruptions that can unnerve an opponent. Perhaps not necessarily a veteran team like the Nets. But even though the Bulls played a spirited first half that had the home TV viewers perhaps thinking maybe those Bulls are for real and the expectant home crowd ready to vote for parade or rally, the Nets lured the Bulls into their kind of game.

The Bulls cannot win that kind of game because we know it's in the cards that three of a kind, a Big Three, beats two pair, a Big Two plus Two, like Nikola Vucevic and Ball.

That's sort of what the teams had going early with Durant with 27 points, Harden with 25 and Irving starting to wiggle in for scores engaging in a heck of a first half shootout with LaVine and DeRozan, LaVine with a late second quarter surge for 11 points that kept the Bulls within 62-60 at halftime.

This was going to be something to see.

It ended up lasting four minutes because after Vucevic with 14 points tipped in a McKinnie miss. The Nets then went on that run with 13-0 to start the fourth quarter after 9-0 to end the third that left you wondering who were those Bulls guys. Not the guys we saw for most of the three previous months. More Pistons like.

DeMar DeRozan finishes a layup past Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving.

DeMar DeRozan finished with 19 points against Brooklyn on Wednesday night.

"We let a snowball effect happen, one thing after another," noticed DeRozan, "Turnovers, them getting in transition, three after three. It seemed like everything went wrong. Everything was on us, energy, effort, everything; understand we got our ass kicked tonight."

"Felt like a 50-10 run, pretty much close to that, I think," added LaVine.

Everyone noticed.

What also was noticeable was the way the Nets executed in the half court with the brilliance of especially Durant, whom the Bulls had to double team and who gracefully passed for nine assists while Harden had 16. The Bulls had just four fast break points through three quarters and five steals for the game, 17 turnovers for 28 Nets points. They lost loose balls to Blake Griffin diving on the floor. And mired in the half court and a slower game, the individual offensive excellence of LaVine and DeRozan in the first half (32 points to 24 for Durant and Harden) was fool's gold because the Bulls cannot match their play in that half court game.

As good as LaVine and DeRozan are, there's no one like Durant. Who with Harden also drawing so much Bulls attention that Patty Mills disappeared behind screens for six threes for 21 points off the bench. Coby White had 13 points, but through three quarters only two of the other four Bulls reserves scored, McKinnie and Troy Brown with five points each. The Nets with starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Claxton out started two rookies, DayRon Sharpe and Kessler Edwards, and Sharpe was with 20 points.

If the Bulls are intent on cutting the nets down, these Nets definitely declared they'll be in the way. And like in war, there's no prize for being runner up.

"It's about how we bounce back," said DeRozan. "This is a team we beat twice. We knew they were going to come in here and try to get their get back. And they did what they were supposed to do. It's about how we respond. Let it sink in, let it suck, let it hurt. We've got to understand we're at the top of our conference and we have to show we're there for a reason. It's new for a lot of the guys. A game like tonight is a good example of helping you understand what needs to be done when you compete against some of these teams. We're going to get every team's best shot and we have to know that. Our confidence is there; no one is going to break that."

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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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