Coming into tonight’s Brooklyn Nets-Chicago Bulls game, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a more pertinent storyline than Jeremy Lin’s restrained (but in a different spot) left hamstring. The Nets were, and this is putting it kindly, woeful without their summer signing, so what team would show up against the Bulls? The Halloween version that got blown out by 30 points against these very Bulls, or the one whose gritty performance earned them a buzzer-beating victory on Monday?
Strangely enough, it was a little bit of both as the Nets got off to a 9-0 start thanks to a blistering 3-3 from deep display via Brook Lopez. However, without Lin and Joe Harris (hip), the second unit was sorely depleted. Head coach Kenny Atkinson leaned hard on Caris LeVert, Justin Hamilton, Randy Foye, and former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie to mediocre impact. While Lopez rested, Bojan Bogdanovic couldn’t buy a bucket following his 26-point explosion and the Nets quickly found themselves chasing the strong performances of Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic.
In lieu of Bogdanovic’s load, Lopez and Sean Kilpatrick took up the scoring responsibility, dropping 30 of the Nets’ 49 first half points on a combined 11-17. Lopez, who loves taking on his twin brother Robin (and then dishing about it at McDonald’s at 2AM), was punishing the Bulls from all angles — a steadying hand as the Nets managed to take a 49-46 lead into the half.
The turnovers and personal fouls racked up into the third quarter as noted Nets-killer Dwyane Wade began to heat up, but a refocused Bogdanovic (and a few important buckets from Justin Hamilton) helped the Nets cling to a 77-73 lead headed to the final frame. While the Nets made 10 more three-pointers than the Bulls (12-23 vs. 2-8) through three quarters, Chicago more than made up that deficit via their insane +16 at the free throw line.
Spurned on by a surprisingly energetic Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — who was a GTD thanks to an illness — as his aggressiveness kept the Nets up by as much as 5 points. However, the Nets started stagnating, taking poor shots, and (yes) continued to turn the ball over in spades, which just turned into more foul shots for the Bulls. As Atkinson treaded water with the bench, Dinwiddie struggled to run the offense against his former team, costing the Nets on several possessions.
With eight minutes to go, the starters were tossed back out there to sink or swim — would they outlast Butler and his free-throw shooting company? Following an insane-time-machine-fastbreak-dunk-show from Randy Foye, Lopez started going head-to-head with Butler (40 points). Just after Butler’s turned ankle forced him out of the game for a short moment, Mirotic and Hollis-Jefferson got in a small scuffle and then things got weird.
Lopez-on-Lopez action left the game at 97-90 with 3:02 to go — Brook’s 31 vs. Robin’s 12 — but foul shooting continued to drag this game out. Two missed free throws from Foye allowed the cookin’ Butler to reach the line for his tenth and eleventh makes from the stripe, the Nets’ 7-point lead gone in a fraction of a second. Two more misses and the game was tied at 97-97 with 40 seconds to go.
Deep breaths, again.
Instead of winning the game, however, Foye would promptly toss the ball away on the inbounds pass, sparking another mid-range jumper for Butler — 99-97 Bulls. (Sidenote: why was Bogdanovic guarding Butler so late? He got torched. Repeatedly.) So, in a similar situation to Monday’s fracas, the Nets were down 2 points in a late-game opportunity…
Thankfully, a Lopez poster on Lopez (the good kind), knotted the game at 99-99 with nothing but an isolation Butler possession between them and overtime.
Swish — the Nets go from buzzer-beater darlings to bozos in under two days — a tough one to swallow given their 7-point lead late on.
The stats: 3 PTS, 1-4 FG, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL
The rookie continues to get better game after game! Caris LeVert has begun to heat up from deep and his playmaking skills have come along fine. Nets supporters should feel like they’ve got their hands on a future stud sooner rather than later.
The stats: 33 PTS, 12-20 FG, 3 REB, 4 AST, 3 TOV
It has been such a joy to watch Brook Lopez evolve since 2008, one of my favorite basketball anythings ever.
Tonight, he torched his twin brother to the tune of 30 points, set his new career-high in single-game three-pointers (5), and moved into fourth all-time in minutes played for Nets franchise history.
Lopez is shooting from deep so well, that the muddled, clunky stroke has suddenly turned confident and not dissimilar to a guard in terms of silkiness. He makes it look so easy sometimes and continued to carry the heavy-lifting for the Nets this season — could he make a late push for an All-Star spot?
It's the 3rd time this season Brook Lopez has made 4 threes by halftime
He's done it the same number of times as Steph Curry
BROOK. LOP3Z. pic.twitter.com/yEJimDOhTA
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 29, 2016
His big boy dunk with seconds remaining saved the Nets for another minute, but he couldn’t do it alone once again.
Lopez smash: tied at 99 apiece with 12.6 seconds left. pic.twitter.com/s8UV6mqWsz
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) December 29, 2016