The opener of the NBA on Christmas lineup was close until the Achilles heel for the Brooklyn Nets, the third quarter, became a factor, with the Chicago Bulls pulling apart en route to a 95-78 win.
Still playing without Luol Deng, but the Bulls looked good during the second half, as the return of Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich proved to be a decisive factor against the Nets, while Deron Williams probably spent a bit too long on the bench during that period, as Jason Kidd made another decision that helped lead his team to a loss.
The Bulls’ defense was at its best against a team that continues to hide behind the cliche of looking for its identity. In truth, they’re simply bad. The Nets shot 35.2% from the field, getting strong performances from Deron Williams (18 points), Mirza Teletovic (17 points, 10 in the 3rd quarter), and that’s about it. Kevin Garnett was only 2-of-7 from the field, Paul Pierce was only 1-of-8 and Andrey Blatche shot an awful 1-of-11, as the Bulls’ defense with Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and yes, even Caros Boozer, easily dominated the boards and the paint.
Things look good for the Bulls with Butler, Augustin and Hinric rotating on the three guard positions. Butler scored 15 points and played some excellent defense on Joe Johnson, limiting him to 12 points. Augustin scored 13 points while coming off the bench, and Kirk Hinric simply navigated the game quite smartly, although his stat line of 6 points didn’t really impress anyone.
The numbers of Taj Gibson, scoring 20 points and grabbing 8 rebounds, probably described his dominance against the easily beaten Nets’ frontline better than anything. Carlos Boozer went for the same move time after time, but had no problem finishing above Reggie Evans and Blatche, finishing with 14 points and 6 rebounds. Joakim Noah scored 10 points, added 8 rebounds, hitting all his shots from the line. The Bulls finished with a remarkable 18-of-20 when shooting free throws, while the Nets were only 73.2% on their 31 attempts.
Conclusion? The Bulls are better than their record shows, especially once Luol Deng comes back from his current injury, and maybe they’ll be almost fully healthy. Rose isn’t coming back, but they’re used to that, maybe too much. The Brooklyn Nets are in the same situation, but without the spirit, familiarity and drive, not to mention the quality of coaching, the Chicago Bulls have. Getting booed in the third quarter probably didn’t help.