BROOKLYN, N.Y. — With the Brooklyn Nets trailing by five in the second quarter, Deron Williams pulled out his full bag of tricks.
A straight line drive. A left-to-right crossover. A double-crossover. But nothing worked against Derrick Rose, the Bulls guard and former MVP, who at first funneled Williams into help defense and then kept his ground in front of him, refusing to let the Nets All-Star create any kind of space for a good shot.
Eventually, Williams posted up Rose, backed him down, and uncurled an off-balance left-handed layup that bounced off the rim and into Rose’s hands. Within 5 seconds, Rose sped the full length of the court and dropped in an athletic lefty layup, as Williams trailed behind the play.
Even on a night where Rose wasn’t at his best, it was a feat of athleticism that characterized the difference between these two teams: Rose and Jimmy Butler simply outmatched “Brooklyn’s Backcourt” of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, as Chicago’s guards outscored them 40-13 en route to a blowout 102-84 victory.
The Nets missed 54 of 86 attempts, many of them wide-open shots, against the Bulls, who were in the last night of a seven-game, 14-day road trip. “I thought we got a number of open looks, we just didn’t capitalize,” guard Jarrett Jack said of the team’s offense.
Along with the backcourt struggles, they were outclassed inside by Pau Gasol, who finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds, one more rebound and one fewer point than Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, and Mason Plumlee combined. The always-energetic Joakim Noah, who attended high school in Brooklyn, didn’t do much in the box score but helped hold the Nets to 20-43 shooting in the paint, and ended the game by applauding some fans sitting near the Bulls bench that came to see him.
The most notable moment for the Nets came when Kevin Garnett tried to bite Noah on the hand, as a competitive joke. “If I wanted to bite him, I would’ve,” Garnett said after the game. “Shout out to Mike Tyson.”
But the bite attempt only served as a temporary respite from the team’s struggles: the loss dropped the Nets to 6-9, and they have yet to beat a team with a winning record this season (a fact Garnett was unaware of), struggling at times to simply run through their offense and convert shots.
How bad was it? When asked how the team could turn it around, a clearly upset Johnson said simply, “I have no idea.”
Williams did not speak to the media following the game.
The Bulls didn’t appear offensively coherent early, aggressively pursuing mid-range shots even in transition. But a nice drive and-one reverse layup by the gifted Rose in the first quarter seemed to kick-start their offense, and the Bulls started getting more shots towards the rim in transition, including some flashy dunks from Butler as the Bulls maintained and extended a double-digit lead.
The Bulls finished with 27 fast-break points to the Nets’ 8. “Obviously, I didn’t think that we played with effort for 48 minutes,” Lionel Hollins said.
The Nets only trailed by five at the half, which gave them some hope that they could muster a comeback. But the team faltered in the third no matter what they threw out there, shooting just 9-25 in the third quarter as the Bulls extended the lead to 13.
The third-quarter issues are not an anomaly for the Nets: they’ve been outscored by 10.4 points per 100 third-quarter possessions this season, including Sunday’s game. It’s their worst quarter by a fair margin.
“We’ve just got to come out with a focus, just ready to go out there and hit the other team in the mouth, so to speak,” Jack added about the team’s mentality in the second half. “I think we kind of wait, and wait, and we throw a punch, and they throw a punch, and we’re not the team that just keeps going no matter what, for whatever the reason may be. We’ve just got to do a better job of coming out at halftime with a better pace.”
“We tried to change up the lineup and we still couldn’t make shots,” Hollins added. “We couldn’t get rebounds on the offensive end that gave us second and third chances. We had very few turnovers, but they were always at a point where we didn’t need a turnover.”
The Nets take on their cross-river rival New York Knicks next Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. They’ll need to have a short memory to put this one behind them. “We’ve got another opportunity to get better,” Jack added. “It starts tomorrow in practice.”