It was a reprieve for 24 minutes, a slight deviation from the dangerous reality the Bulls find themselves in to date.
Then they were snapped back rudely by one of the worst teams in the NBA, a team so nondescript the team’s their starters are a combination of “Who?” and “He’s still in the NBA?”.
It wasn’t decided for sure until the last five minutes, when Doug McDermott hit a 9-1-1 Emergency triple followed by Derrick Rose doing the same thing to give the Bulls a 13-point lead over the Brooklyn Nets with three minutes remaining.
It closed the door on a Nets run and led to an 118-102 win at the United Center, yet another game where the Bulls were staring down the barrel of falling under .500 and this harder-than-it-should’ve-been win put them a half game up on the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the East.
Ugly as it may have been, equaled by the amount of “scary”, it’s a win.
“I thought we had good focus early on, defended well,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We lost it for a little but we did get it back.”
Not to be outdone by the schedule, the Nets will make a donation to the Pistons on Saturday night in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
It wasn’t before they put a genuine scare into the Bulls, who might not have won without McDermott’s 25 points in 29 minutes, as he hit five of the Bulls’ 10 triples.
“We needed it big time, we came off a tough loss in D.C.,” McDermott said. “We got off to a good start, had a big lead. I feel real comfortable out there. I got it going early, which always helps.”
Three straight games with 20 or more, his performances are coming at the most critical of times, especially with Pau Gasol out at least for the next game and possibly next two.
“His confidence is at a very high level right now,” Hoiberg said. “He’s finding good shots and taking him. They’re really hugging him at the half court so if he can free himself up in transition, he can get a good shot.”
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It helped build a 24-point lead in the first half, as the Bulls were buoyed by the presence of Taj Gibson, a man who didn’t seem likely to play after pulling his hamstring 24 hours ago in Washington D.C.
“If you can go, then you go,” Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. “If you can’t, you can’t. Taj was like, ‘Yo, I’m going’. You respect him for it.”
Gibson was a gametime decision but played 27 minutes and scored 12 with six rebounds while defending Brook Lopez and keeping him out of comfort zones, along with help from Cristiano Felecio, who played 20 minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Lopez only mustered nine points and three rebounds in 31 minutes. Had he gotten going, it would’ve been an even scarier situation.
“I thought Bobby (Portis) and Cris were key,” Hoiberg said. “I thought our whole bench gave us a lot all night.”
Portis had some miscues but played with extreme energy and scored 12 points with 14 rebounds. Butler scored 22 with seven assists and Rose, who wasn’t aggressive most of the night, had 12 with five assists in 29 minutes.
The Nets made it interesting, with a 37-point third quarter that brought back all the Bulls’ demons—demons that have come to life and are no longer a talking point. Open shots, open layups and more than anything, a new lease on life.
“Obviously we want to have good habits and that third quarter, we can learn from it,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we had pretty good urgency. You give a team rhythm like that, then they get comfortable. Some of the shots they were hitting was tough shots. It was because of us.”
They allowed the Nets to have confidence and it carried through the entire second half. Critical plays from the Bulls were countered by a carefree style, a team with no expectations and nothing to lose.
Point guard Donald Sloan scored 11 in the period, being joined by Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 11 of his 26 as the Nets shot 64 percent for those 12 minutes.
“We won, man. We just wanted to win the quarter,” Butler said. “We’re not supposed to give up that many points in a quarter.”
Meanwhile, that pressure continues to mount on the Bulls and it showed, as they allowed themselves a moment to breathe—with this team, they don’t have that luxury.
Their third-quarter output equaled what they accomplished in 24 minutes and cut it to single digits by the fourth, coming to within five early in the period and hanging around like a nuisance until the Bulls got serious—or the Nets simply ran out of pro talent.
Thaddeus Young had 16 with 14 rebounds, but the Bulls keeping Lopez in check, it led to a win that was a wee bit tougher than it should’ve been.