Recap: Nets 105, Bulls 102 - “Brook Lopez Comes Up Big Defensively For Brooklyn”
The road hasn’t been a particularly kind place to the Brooklyn Nets thus far into their 2015-16 campaign, with just one win coming in their last 13 contests away from the Barclays Center and the team on an eight-game road losing streak entering Monday’s game in Chicago against the (15-10) Bulls. Following a hopeless home performance Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nets played like a completely different team in Chicago from the opening tip, however, hustling for loose balls and tracking down offensive rebounds, and led at the end of all four quarters of their 105-102 upset victory.
As usual, the Nets relied on their frontcourt for scoring, with Brook Lopez leading the team with 21 points (on 8/18 shooting), 12 rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and three turnovers, and Thaddeus Young adding 16 points (by way of 8/15 FGs), 13 rebounds, three steals, two assists, and three turnovers. While Jarrett Jack supplied just six points on 2/9 from the floor (along with eight assists to a game-high four turnovers) and Joe Johnson submitted another low-efficiency shooting line (12 points on 5/15 shots, though with five assists to zero takeaways), the Nets’ bench managed a plus-six advantage over their Chicago counterparts, thanks to 24-combined points from the dynamic duo of Wayne Ellington and Willie Reed.
Thaddeus Young clearly put the team’s road woes on himself to start the game, taking four of Brooklyn’s first five shot attempts for six quick points and two boards, as the Nets jumped ahead to an early 6-0 lead. Lopez flashed some touch on his first jumper, a fadeaway, and collected five boards in the first quarter, but turned the ball over twice and cost Andrea Bargnani an assist with his indecision upon collecting a pass and bringing it below his shoulders, allowing Nikola Mirotic to recover for a piece of the ensuing shot attempt (see video below). Given Bargs’s penchant for shot-taking since returning from his hamstring injury - including 46 shot attempts in the six games - and it’s possible that Brook was simply surprised that his teammate made the extra pass, not to mention that Joakim Noah would fall for the up-fake from beyond the arc.
The second quarter would allow the Nets’ second unit to gain some confidence on offense, even if their defensive effort collapsed and the lead would soon evaporate. Chicago’s Joakim Noah carved up the Nets’ defense and dropped five dimes in just over five minutes by kicking to open shooters, while Bojan Bogdanovic and Doug McDermott took turns losing each other on defense. Bogdanovic re-entered with the bench lineup and provided a nice secondary ball-handling option next to Donald Sloan, and got just about any shot he wanted against his opponent. Wayne Ellington quietly scored ten points in the quarter and was perfect on his first four shots, before firing a turnaround jumper as the halftime buzzer sounded.
It wasn’t until the third frame that the Brooklyn Nets seemed to realize that their best player was being covered by Pau Gasol, and finally made a concerted effort to set Brook Lopez up for easy baskets. Brook scored ten points in the quarter’s first five minutes on a series of assisted field goals, as the Nets expanded their lead into double digits behind some actual, NBA-caliber defense, and a stretch that saw the Chicago Bulls miss 14-straight shots. A 9-4 Bulls run to close the quarter would keep the game within reach entering the final period, but the Nets’ bench would push the lead back to ten before the starters slowly filtered back onto the court.
(Video note: Name that play! Readers of Brooklyn’s Finest from last season should have no problem picking up on it, so leave your answers in the comments or on Twitter.)
Willie Reed chipped in with five points to start the fourth quarter, on a follow-up layup and three successful free throws, and played in his most prominent game as a professional, in scoring 11 points and collecting five rebounds in slightly under 13 minutes of court time against the Bulls. Seemingly taking Thomas Robinson’s spot in Lionel Hollins’s big man rotation, Reed has worked well as a low-usage energy player alongside the high-volume Bargnani, and unveiled a smooth-looking jumper at one point in the second quarter. And unlike Lopez, Reed can at least finish a (rare) Bargs assist (see above), for our Assist of the Night.
For all of the successes that the Nets found on the offensive end against the Bulls - in shooting well over 50% as a team for the first three quarters - it soon disappeared down the stretch. The Nets converted on just two field goals over the final six minutes of the game, and finished 0/6 following Lopez’s running layup at the 2:36-mark. Holding a four-point lead once Derrick Rose turned the ball over on a Joe Johnson swipe, the team had four chances to expand upon their advantage as the clock dipped under a minute, but an over-the-back foul call on a Lopez offensive rebound changed the anxiety level completely.
Pau Gasol’s two free throws brought the lead to a single possession, which led to some more anxiety on the ensuing two inbounds plays and as the Bulls trapped Joe Johnson along the sideline. Jarrett Jack would make both free throws upon getting caught and fouled, and the Bulls faced a four-point hole with 10.6 seconds remaining. Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, who finished with 24 points (on 11/20 shooting), three rebounds, four assists, and a turnover, received the pass while coming across the court to his right and elevated for the jump shot, only to be rejected by Brook Lopez, who left Gasol to help on the Butler flare. Lopez would finally be free to let loose with the smile and handshakes, as he led the Nets to a rare win on the road and against a quality Eastern Conference opponent.
Brooklyn’s 105-102 win against the Chicago Bulls improves the team’s record to 8-20 on the season. The Nets will play next on Wednesday at the Barclays Center, for a 7:30 pm tip off against the Dallas Mavericks, and against a certain ex-”franchise” point guard who still collects paychecks (and, apparently, holds grudges) from the Brooklyn Nets organization.