NEW YORK — Thursday night is why anybody thinking the Derrick Rose-less Bulls will be an early playoff exit might want to reconsider.
Down three starters and two rotation players to injury, the Bulls rallied from a 16-point deficit and stunned the Nets 92-90 at Barclays Center when Brook Lopez’s jumper went in and out at the buzzer.
Nate Robinson had scored the go-ahead basket with 22.7 seconds remaining and Nazr Mohammed made critical defensive plays in the final minute.
“For Nate to sit there most of the fourth and be able to make that play, it’s a big shot,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
With eight games remaining, the Bulls pulled into a tie with the Hawks for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, which truly is the Leastern Conference this season given that the Nets currently sit in fourth place and home-court advantage for a first-round playoff series.
This is one matchup the Bulls wouldn’t mind seeing.
“Thibs has done an unbelievable job patching this together all year,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Thibodeau. “They’ve had so many guys out.”
The list Thursday included Rose, Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. That meant the bench featured Robinson, Vladimir Radmanovic, Marquis Teague, Daequan Cook and Malcolm Thomas. And that’s it.
“Whoever can go has to go out there and get the job done,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the way we’ve been operating since the All-Star break.”
Robinson’s go-ahead basket came in the lane after he also got credit for a steal on Lopez, whom Mohammed ably guarded. Mohammed did again after Robinson’s basket, and the Nets fouled Cook, who split two free throws with 5.5 seconds left.
Carlos Boozer posted his seventh double-double in eight games with a monster performance of 29 points and 18 rebounds. Butler added 16 points and 10 boards.
Deron Williams’ 30 points topped the Nets.
Williams fouled out Kirk Hinrich — his second straight early exit after Tuesday’s ejection in Washington — with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left on a three-point play that gave the Nets an 81-80 lead. But Butler hung for a double-pump reverse scoop and Boozer sank a jumper.
Williams split two free throws but, following a Boozer miss, finished a three-point play over Butler with 1:55 left. Boozer responded with a jumper but Joe Johnson, back after a five-game absence, sank a 3-pointer with 1:14 left off Williams’ penetration.
After Boozer split two free throws, Williams powered home a tough move over Deng in the lane with 52.9 seconds remaining. But Deng sank a jumper.
The Bulls trailed by 15 in the first quarter and 16 in the second mostly because, without Noah and Gibson, Lopez went nuts. He scored 18 of his 28 points in the first quarter alone.
The Bulls awoke in the third, pulling even for the first time on Butler’s 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining. But the quarter ended poorly when Hinrich fouled Williams on a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left, Hinrich’s fifth.
“We came out in the second half with much more energy,” Hinrich said. “We’ve had wins like this all year where, collectively, we just find a way.”