NEW YORK -- It felt like a home game for most of the night, as Dwyane Wade jumpers and spin moves were met with wistful cheers from the Barclays Center crowd, appreciated the way Hall of Famer should be.
“I always get great support when I come here to Brooklyn,” said Wade, as if he needed it on this night, as he was cheered every time he touched the ball in a laugher of a fourth quarter.
“It feels like a home. I didn’t even know if they cheer for me like that at home when I get the ball, so it was great to be out there in that environment.”
And more importantly, the Bulls played Monday night’s game with the proper appreciation that they weren’t going to toy around with an opponent who had no business being on the same floor with them for another big win.
It was an instant replay of Saturday’s thrashing of the Indiana Pacers, as the starters jumped on the Brooklyn Nets from the start and cruised to a 118-88 win in Brooklyn on Monday night.
For those counting, the Bulls are off to their first 3-0 start since the 1996-97 season, a year that saw the Bulls win 69 games and the NBA title.
The Bulls were a picture of efficiency yet again, hitting the 100-point mark midway through the fourth quarter as there was plenty of garbage time to go around for the second straight game.
“Our intensity has been really good,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “(Rajon) Rondo set the tone for our team by getting out, playing with pace and making simple plays.”
If Saturday was the bench players taking a star role, the starters took center stage against the backdrop of Broadway.
They pounced on the Nets early, taking an 18-point lead into the second quarter as they compiled nine assists, with Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson the main recipients. Butler led the Bulls with 22 points on just 10 shots, and Gibson went 7-for-9 for 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Nikola Mirotic came off the bench to score 16 points with 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, and Wade scored 12 in 29 minutes.
“I give our veteran leaders a lot of credit for the way we continue to put our foot on the gas and continue to extend leads as opposed to letting up and allowing our opponents to get back in the game,” Hoiberg said.
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More than a few times last year, the Bulls got up for the big games but let the novices of the NBA prevent them from making the playoffs. Seeing this team develop any kind of killer instinct should be viewed as a positive sign—especially considering Hoiberg was telling the team and the media before the game about how dangerous the Nets were, that they should be 3-0 instead of 1-2.
But minutes in, it was obvious the Nets couldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight as the Bulls’
“It’s fun. It’s a fun way to play when you’re sharing the ball,” Hoiberg said. “The ball’s not sticking in guys’ hands.”
The ball movement continued, accompanied by pretty plays and passes that displayed the Bulls’ athleticism and speed. Wade connected on a touch-pass alley-oop with Butler after a Rondo look-ahead pass that brought the visiting crowd out of their seats in the first half.
“It’s contagious, a trickle down effect. It starts with the first unit,” Rondo said. “Every team will fight back. We’ve been able to keep our foot on the gas. We figured out how to keep the lead above 20.”
Rondo only had four assists but the Bulls had 26 as a whole, many of them the swing-swing variety. Five players had three assists or more, with Isaiah Canaan leading the way with six to go along with his 15 points in 22 minutes.
“If we win by 20, I’m happy I didn’t have to play the fourth two games in a row,” Rondo said. “To start a season like that, it’s big for us. It’s fun. I love passing. It’s fun to watch.”
Subsequently, the Bulls have been able to make up for the fact that they shouldn’t be a strong 3-point shooting team by their ball movement. Doug McDermott went off from the line against Indiana but didn’t hit one against the Nets; However, it was Mirotic and Canaan who went off against the Nets, combining to hit seven of the Bulls’ 11 3-point makes.
They hit 11 against Boston in the opener and nine against Indiana Saturday.
The Bulls are almost flawless at hitting the open man from double-teams or off dribble penetration, playing with a chemistry that’s almost too good to be true this soon in a season with so many new players.
“I’m not surprised. I think whenever you buy into it and you hang out as much as we do and we know each other the way we do, I think it helps,” Butler said. “Me and D-Wade were talking about it earlier, how this locker room camaraderie, it really shows on the floor.”
It’s a stark contrast to what they displayed last year, when many began to wonder if Hoiberg’s system could fit with this team. But it’s been embraced by the team, and the players are embracing each other.
“You wanna be out there. You know the ball is coming to you,” Butler said. “You don’t know when, but you know whenever you’re open you’re gonna be in a position to score. Everybody wants a chance to score. That’s the reason you play.”
But a reserve player became center of attention for all the wrong reasons as Michael Carter-Williams injured his left knee early in the second quarter, limping off but not returning as the Bulls termed it a knee sprain and scheduled an MRI for Tuesday in Boston.
But aside from that major deterrent, the Bulls weren’t deterred in any facet, aside from the old bugaboo of turnovers rearing its ugly head for a few minutes in the third quarter, when a 25-point lead was cut to 18.
“We gotta cut down on the turnovers, we had 20. That’s too many,” Hoiberg said. “We gotta build habits for the long haul, for this long season.”
If that’s the most of Hoiberg’s issues, he’ll take it.