NEW YORK – Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau watches tape of the Nets and sees a confident team with an offense in rhythm.
And he doesn’t mean just Saturday.
The Nets picked apart Thibodeau’s defense in Game 1, rolling to a 106-89 victory. And when the teams return to Barclays Center on Monday night for Game 2, the Bulls will have to slow down a team that finished the regular season well and opened the playoffs even better.
“We’re catching a team that’s in rhythm and we’re going to have to re-establish ourselves,” Thibodeau said Sunday.
The opener was close for only the first few minutes. The Nets began pulling away late in the first quarter, then made 16 of 20 shots in the second, shooting 60 percent in the first half and opening a 60-35 lead.
Brooklyn won six of its final seven games of the regular season after opening April with a 92-90 loss to the Bulls. The Nets scored more than 100 points in each victory, are much healthier than the banged-up Bulls, and with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, have three starters who can hurt even one of the NBA’s best defenses.
“The thing is, we’re disappointed. We played poorly and we have to change the mentality. We have to correct the mistakes,” Thibodeau said. “Brooklyn’s a terrific team. They’ve been playing great down the stretch, they have good momentum going into the playoffs, they’re going to challenge you and we have to be ready to respond.”
That’s what the Nets are expecting.
“Now they probably feel like they’ve got their back against the wall and that’s how we’ve got to play,” Williams said. “We’ve got to play like this is a must-win game for us. Game 2, we can’t let them come in and steal one from us.”
The Bulls didn’t practice Sunday, instead watching film. But they didn’t really need reminders of everything they did wrong, or of the situation they face.
“I’ve been here before, we’ve all been. A lot of us have been here before. Down one, lost the first game with a chance to win the second game,” forward Carlos Boozer said. “So for us, we feel like we got our butts kicked, in the first half especially, but we didn’t play our best game. We all felt we can do so much more. That’s where it’s at. To a man, we’ve got to do a lot better.”
Thibodeau said center Joakim Noah, who was ineffective while playing through a painful right foot injury, felt better and would start as long as he was healthy. And he defended point guard Derrick Rose, who has been criticized for not returning from last year’s knee surgery, even though he was physically cleared long ago and has taken part in practices for weeks.
“The thing is that it’s not bothersome because I know all that he’s putting into it and I know who he is,” Thibodeau said. “I know his character and he’s done amazing things for our organization, and he’s doing all he can and that’s all you can ever ask a guy to do. So, there’s always going to be some negativity, but I think the vast majority of it is very positive.
“You hope for the best, you plan for the worst,” Thibodeau added. “The thing is, we don’t want him out there until he’s completely comfortable, and he’s not comfortable yet. So that’s part of what we expected and as long as he continues to work the way he has, I’m good with it.”
Defending Rose is nice. What the Bulls really need to do is defend the Nets.
Brooklyn finished at nearly 56 percent shooting and had six players score in double figures. The Nets averaged only 87.5 points in four games against the Bulls during the regular season, losing three of four, and interim coach P.J. Carlesimo knows he can’t count on a repeat of what his team did Saturday.
“I think it’s going to be, it’ll be a war,” he said after the game. “We got one game, which I’m not making light of at all. It’s extremely significant, but we’ve got to find a way to get three more and I think each game will be different.
“If we can compete physically and defensively and take care of the ball the way we took care of the ball tonight, then we got a great shot.”
In their first playoff appearance since 2007, the Nets clearly got a boost from a vibrant crowd in Brooklyn’s first major postseason game since the 1956 World Series. Now the Nets will try for their first 2-0 lead in a series since sweeping the Knicks in the first round in 2004, and there may not be quite the same electricity in the building.
“Hopefully we can do the same thing the next night when it’s not our first playoff game,” Williams said.