The Chicago Bulls already had clinched the season series against the Brooklyn Nets by winning the first two Kyrie Irving-less meetings.
But what transpired Wednesday night at the United Center transcended the typical loss.
The Nets ran away and hid from the Bulls, blitzing them with a second-half barrage that featured the optimal versions of Kevin Durant and James Harden, with a little Irving sprinkled in for good measure.
“We’re all killers. We attack,” Harden said. “But we’re all unselfish.”
This marked just the second time this season the Nets’ Big Three played together, both victories. It also marked the Nets’ first victory in nine tries against the teams with the top-eight records in the NBA.
Not that they’re worried about such statistics.
“We’re not trying to make no statements to the league. Who cares what they think?” Durant said. “We know what we bring to the table and this is all about us. I’m sure people were watching the game tonight.”
That’s an ominous statement, born of experience and confidence. It’s the championship pedigree that Bulls coach Billy Donovan, who coached Durant in Oklahoma City, alluded to in his postgame remarks.
The Bulls, save for Alex Caruso, haven’t been to where Durant with the Warriors and Irving with the Cavaliers have gone. DeMar DeRozan has played in a conference finals, but so has Harden — not to mention Harden's Finals experience with the Thunder.
For the Bulls to get to where they want to go, they’re going to need to beat teams like the Nets and Bucks when it counts. The Bulls aren’t running from that fact, evidenced from their postgame comments to own this embarrassment and learn from it.
But it’s not like the Nets are going away either. In fact, depending on where local New York City ordinances land regarding vaccine mandates, Irving could become a more full-time participant moving forward. Particularly come playoff time.
“I’m going to give him the shot,” Harden said, smiling.
Durant both downplayed the statement aspect to the victory while acknowledging the importance of it. The Bulls have played to raucous crowds at the United Center throughout this rejuvenating season, and Durant felt it firsthand.
“You want to definitely play great against the best teams in the league for sure,” he said. “Especially after losing last game. We wanted to bounce back no matter who it was against.
“But it’s good to come in here in a tough environment and get a W. This team has been extremely (good). The crowd is starting to rally around the team, the city. You can feel it that they’re starting to understand that Chicago Bulls basketball is back. So for us to come in here and win in this fashion, it meant a lot to us.”