CHICAGO – Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau paced along the sideline watching his team commit turnover after turnover.
Instead of his Bulls coming out with energy in their playoff home opener, the Brooklyn Nets picked apart the defense in the first quarter, quickly putting the Bulls in a 12-point hole that left Thibodeau displeased to say the least.
“He told us to get it together, in not such a nice way,” forward Luol Deng said with a smile. “Early on in the game our rhythm was bad and their rhythm was great. They just knocked shots. As soon as we turned around their rhythm we were able to go into the half with the lead.”
An uptick in defensive intensity and a renewed effort to shut down the Nets’ go-to scorers, guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, spurred a remarkable turnaround and ultimately carried the Bulls to a 79-76 win for a 2-1 series lead.
The Bulls ended the first quarter on a 14-0 run while holding the Nets to 0 for 13 from the field, part of a 28-4 Bulls run that spanned the final 13:45 of the first half. The Nets’ lead evaporated, aided by a 1 for 25 shooting performance during the Bulls’ run, and the combination of Carlos Boozer (game-high 22 points) and Deng (21 points) again stepped up on the offensive end.
“They jumped on us pretty good, so we had to dig out of that hole,” Thibodeau said. “I thought once we did that in the second and third quarter we played well. You relax for a second, that team’s very, very good, if they get a crack they can score the ball.”
Already under pressure going on the road with the series tied at 1, the Nets must win their first postseason road game in more than six years Saturday to prevent the Bulls from taking a 3-1 series lead.
History has been kind to the Bulls when their defense shows up. They improved to 88-19 in playoff history when holding opponents to 90 points or less and are 31-7 (.815) this season. The Nets shot 34.6 percent from the field and were even worse behind the 3-point line, hitting 5 of 21 3-pointers (23.8 percent). The Bulls’ defense deserves much of the credit for getting them to this point, especially with Derrick Rose still sidelined.
“We were challenging shots, being real aggressive on defense and just trying to frustrate them,” forward Taj Gibson said.
Consider the Nets frustrated.
“The Bulls are playing good defense and loading up on our guys capable of scoring,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “We’re doing a poor job of finishing in the paint. … You can’t win if you struggle the way we’ve struggled inside.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the Bulls for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.