Nets hang on to best shorthanded Bulls

02/01/2013 10:58 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Gerald Wallace pulled down 13 rebounds in the Nets' win.(AP)
BROOKLYN – Brook Lopez had a team-high 20 points and Joe Johnson and MarShon Brooks each chipped in 13 as the Brooklyn Nets held off a shorthanded but very game Chicago Bulls squad, 93-89, at Barclays Center Friday night.

Chicago (28-18) came in missing three starters, with Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah all missing due to injury, and coach Tom Thibodeau was forced to have four players play more than 40 minutes. Luol Deng, who sat for just four seconds, and Marco Bellinelli led the team with 18 points apiece, while Taj Gibson, who went the entire way, added 16 and nine rebounds.

Despite the lack of manpower, however, the Bulls lived up to Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo’s pre-game prediction, playing tough and utilizing a lot of small lineups to frustrate the Nets before finally succumbing to Brooklyn’s pressure.

“It was extremely difficult (to execute); we wanted to stay big because we thought we could hurt them inside, but we couldn’t defend them with our big guys,” Carlesimo said after the game. “Reggie (Evans) was playing excellent, he was giving us offense and rebounding, but we just couldn’t handle the matchup or make our rotations.”

The game was all Nets early, as Brooklyn (28-19) surged out to a 12-point lead and held Chicago to just 28 percent shooting en route to a 24-14 lead after one. However, once Andray Blatche went to the bench with three personal fouls and a technical early in the second, the Bulls went small and went on a run, leading by one at the half and extending that margin to three after 36 minutes.

“It took us a while to settle in and get a decent coverage (once we went small), and then we knew it was going to be a war,” Carlesimo said. “They were running guys off a ton of screens and doing a good job getting to the boards, but we were able to hang in because of our rebounding, and when we did get stops we started pounding the ball inside. When you beat these guys, that’s the kind of game it is, and that’s playing without three starters.”

The Nets came alive in the fourth, however, with MarShon Brooks either scoring or assisting on the first nine points of the quarter to give the lead back to Brooklyn. Prior to the game, Carlesimo had said that Chicago was “not a good matchup” for Brooks, and he would need to do a lot of positive things to extend his minutes – and he did just that, logging nine of his 21 minutes in the final frame, with Joe Johnson going so far as to say Brooks and Andray Blatche “carried the team” at the end.

“MarShon played well enough to stay in the game,” Carlesimo said. “The team was going too good, and I really didn’t want to take anybody out and mess with anything else until we got into some offense-defense switching at the end.”

“I just try to be solid, not try to force the issue, and be decisive,” Brooks said of his performance. “When I get in trouble, that’s when I think too much, so I just try to be decisive.”

As for Blatche, he played nearly the entire fourth quarter while Brook Lopez sat, scoring all 11 of his points in the final 12 minutes and earning high praise from Carlesimo on his all-around performance.

“Andray had it going, and he was making good decisions; not just scoring inside, but he was defending the pick and roll well, and made a couple of good passes inside,” Carlesimo said. “I don’t know if they all led directly to assists, but he made a lot of good decisions, and the real good thing is that Brook and Reggie were animated and supportive on the bench.”

“I just wanted to be aggressive, I wanted to try to attack the rim and get easy buckets,” Blatche told Sarah Kustok after the game. “They play with a lot of heart, and they play hard. … Me and the whole bench mob, we come in and try to pick the team up.”

The other sparkplug for the Nets was Gerald Wallace, who somewhat called out his teammates earlier in the week by calling their in-game swoons “typical Nets basketball.” Wallace scored just six points, but also pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds in his 41 minutes and often lived up to his “Crash” nickname in making big hustle plays.

“That’s just Gerald. Luol Deng is a ridiculously difficult matchup and I didn’t want Gerald out of the game. … Gerald isn’t one of those guys that hangs his head,” Carlesimo said. “Gerald is one of those guys that plays at 180 miles per hour all the time, so you know he’s going to do a good job chasing and fighting through picks, going to the boards, and doing the things Gerald Wallace does. Whether it’s a mobile four, a scoring three, or a scoring two, he gets that tough assignment very often but he does it extremely well.”

The Nets also had one other ace in the hole: the Barclays Center crowd. Brooklyn's fans have seen the Nets win 18 of 26 games played at Barclays, and Carlesimo admitted that their energy late in the game was a tangible boost for his team.

“Our fans are great; they’re here, and they’re tremendously supportive, and I think a little bit of (the boost the Nets get from them) is (them) knowing when we need them,” Carlesimo said. “It’s not just when it’s going good, sometimes it’s more so the other way.”

The Nets will now have three days off to build on the win before Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers make their only trip of the season to Brooklyn next Tuesday night.

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