Back At .500: Nets 96, Bulls 80 (GAME GRADES)


The Brooklyn Nets CENTER

The Nets had occasional lapses and led only by eight after one half, but I thought they played some of their best basketball of the season, going hit-for-hit against one of their toughest matchups in the league. The Bulls give the Nets trouble all the time with their ferocious defense and heady play led by Joakim Noah on the defensive end, but the Nets just tore through the paint with reckless abandon, and held off the Bulls every time they tried to make a run in the second half.

Maybe I’m exaggerating, or just happy to see a solid effort against a legitimately good team after they only beat the under-.500 teams on their road trip. But this was one of the best overall efforts from start to finish the Nets have strung together all season, forcing the Bulls into 26 turnovers after they committed just three a night ago. Fantastic performance from Brooklyn in their return home.

Deron Williams POINT GUARD

Mixed in between blending in some possessions and asserting himself in others, which is probably his optimal strategy with this team. His three-point shot still isn’t falling, but his midrange is as good as ever.

Shaun Livingston POINT GUARD

Immediate impact. Tricked Mike Dunleavy into fouling him on a fast break, made a beautiful no-look pass to Paul Pierce for an open 3 in a high pick-and-roll, and hit his patented short jumper in the first 90 seconds. Hit his jumper throughout the night without selfishly appropriating the offense.

Joe Johnson SHOOTING GUARD

He is so good when he’s not following his instincts. It was clear in the first six minutes; Johnson missed a low-percentage isolation shot badly on his first attempt, then buried two straight coming off screens and spot-ups. Continued to score off the ball better than on.

Paul Pierce POWER FORWARD

Incredible all-around game for an all-around forward. Was tasked with guarding Carlos Boozer and playing offense against Joakim Noah, and did both with aplomb. Caught Boozer’s shot attempts low and got him out of a rhythm, while staying out of the paint and forcing Noah to play defense like a good guard instead of a game-changing center.

Andray Blatche POWER FORWARD

The ideal mix of needlessly reckless and intelligently absurd.

Surprisingly good defensive possessions in Kevin Garnett’s absence, including a steal in the first quarter and effort in the paint.

Andrei Kirilenko SMALL FORWARD

Tried to force a few passes but he’s still the best off-ball player on the team and he did this so all is forgiven.

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But: for all the good he brings defensively with his sublime spatial understanding, his free throws are a sad, broken mess.

Mirza Teletovic POWER FORWARD

He consistently works hard, even if he doesn’t shoot well. Give him credit for that.

Marcus Thornton SHOOTING GUARD

He’s one of the fastest dribblers the Nets have had since Devin Harris and tonight it didn’t amount to anything.

Jason Collins CENTER

Entered the game in garbage time with just over two minutes left and promptly committed a foul in under three seconds. It was incredible how Collins it was. A+ for that alone.

Mason Plumlee CENTER

Started in favor of Kevin Garnett, who sat out the second straight game with back spasms. Got free under the basket more times than you’d think he would against Joakim Noah, and Noah was his foul for the two best highlights of the night: a massive block and a similarly acrobatic alley-oop.

Was the team’s best big man against one of the league’s best defenders when the Nets were missing their starting center. The numbers won’t show it, but it was a sublime performance for the rookie.