Decades from now, when Tom Thibodeau’s coaching legacy has been fully written, a Chicago fan may stumble across the box score from the Bulls’ 79-76 victory over the Nets and smile knowingly, a nod to Thibodeau’s reputation as a defensive tactician.
A young fan in Brooklyn might peruse the same sheet and, much more simply, scream, “Man, the Nets stink!”
The truth, at least on Thursday night at the United Center, existed in both schools of thought.
The present reality — for fans of both teams everywhere — is the Bulls grabbed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series after a shockingly inept offensive first-half stretch from the Nets that negated their late rally.
Carlos Boozer’s 22 points and 16 rebounds and Luol Deng’s 21 points and 10 rebounds powered the Bulls, who are now 16-6 in Game 3s with the series tied at 1-1 and have gone on to win 13 of those 21 series. Game 3 is Saturday at the United Center.
“Any time you win you don’t want to feel too good about yourself,” Thibodeau said. “You want to analyze what occurred, see the things you did well, and also see the things you didn’t do as well so you can make the necessary corrections.”
Shooting practice might be a good place for the Nets to start.
After a strong start, the Nets at one point somehow missed 25 of 26 shots and scored four points in 13 minutes, 45 seconds. That’s on pace for a 16-point game.
The Nets flirted with the Bulls’ playoff franchise record for lowest opponent field-goal percentage that the Jazz set at 30 percent during the 1998 NBA Finals before settling for 34.6 percent.
Still, the Nets whittled a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit to 77-72 and had Deron Williams with a wide-open 3-point attempt in the final minute that he missed.
Joakim Noah played 27 minutes through his plantar fasciitis again, splitting two free throws with 4.4 seconds to provide the final margin when C.J. Watson’s 3-pointer missed at the buzzer. He had eight rebounds and two blocks.
At one point in the third, Noah missed on a power move and came up gingerly, swearing as he limped away.
Brook Lopez’s 22 points led the Nets. A much more aggressive Williams matched his Game 2 scoring of eight points by midway through the first quarter but cooled off to finish with 18 points and just four assists.
Deng and Boozer completely took over the third quarter, scoring 20 of the Bulls’ 24 points. Deng scored the Bulls’ first 12 points of the period in just 3:55.
The Bulls continued their troubling habit of starting slowly, particularly at home. They committed five turnovers and trailed 13-2 run as Thibodeau burned two timeouts, one surely mentioning Deng’s no-no of fouling Williams on a 3-pointer.
The Nets extended their lead to 17-5 when the wheels fell off. The Bulls closed the first quarter with a 14-0 run as the Nets missed 14 straight field goals and failed to score after Williams’ free throws at the 6 minute, 25 second mark.
Those runs grew to 16-0 and 15 straight Nets’ misses before Andray Blatche dropped home a layup at the 10:49 mark. But Blatche immediately offset his play by purposely bumping into Nazr Mohammed after Mohammed delivered a hard foul, drawing a technical.
Taj Gibson jazzed the sellout crowd with a vicious one-handed jam over Kris Humphries at the 8:15 mark. And the Nets’ offense continued to misfire. After sinking five of their first eight shots, they closed the first half by missing 18 of 22 and entered the break shooting 22.5 percent and trailing 41-34.
Whether that was defensive prowess by Thibodeau and the Bulls or Nets’ offensive ineptitude doesn’t matter. It happened.