By Jason Schott – BrooklynFans.com Reporter / Assignment Editor - @JESchott19
The Chicago Bulls beat the Nets 79-76 on Thursday night in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. The Nets started and ended the game well, and the Bulls controlled everything in between.
The storyline heading into the game was whether the Nets’ Joe Johnson and Chicago’s Joakim Noah, who are both suffering from plantar fasciitis, would play. They both were in the lineup for Game 3, providing a boost to each team.
The Nets had a scary moment just nine seconds in when Deron Williams was elbowed by Carlos Boozer, who was setting a screen for Kirk Hinrich. D-Will was down for a little while, but recovered sufficiently to play 40 minutes.
Early on, the Nets looked more comfortable against the Bulls’ defense than in Game 2. It resulted in a 7-2 lead, capped by Williams’ three free throws after getting fouled behind the arc. It continued from there, as D-Will and Johnson buried back-to-back three-pointers to give them a big 13-2 lead with 7:37 left in the first quarter.
The Nets led 17-5 when D-Will hit two free throws at the 6:24 mark, and then the quarter turned heavily in the Bulls’ favor. as Chicago closed the quarter on a 14-0 run, led by Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer with four points each, to take a 19-17 lead at the end of the first.
The Nets finally got a basket when Andray Blatche made a layup 1:12 into the second. Blatche gave one of those points back when he was called for a technical foul less than a minute later.
The Nets’ bench of Blatche, C.J. Watson, Jerry Stackhouse, and Kris Humphries were ineffective and never got into a rhythm on offense.
It didn’t get any better when the starters came back in, as Reggie Evans fumbled a pass from Stackhouse on his first possession back in the game. Hinrich picked it up and ran it to the other end to make it 30-21 at the 6:00 mark.
The Bulls kept the heat on, with Hinrich jumping in to steal a sloppy inbounds pass to Joe Johnson and running in for a layup to make it 39-27 Chicago.
The Nets ended the first half on a high note, with Johnson hitting a jumper and two free throws, and Gerald Wallace hitting a rare three-pointer as time expired to make it 41-34 Bulls atr halftime.
Luol Deng really got it going in the third quarter, with a three-pointer followed by a three-point play to give the Bulls a 53-38 lead four minutes in.
Interestingly, when Nets Coach P.J. Carlesimo ws looking for offense in the third quarter, he went with C.J. Watson. He left MarShon Brooks on the bench until the start of the fourth quarter, which the Nets entered down 13, at 65-52. He could have made a big impact in the second quarter when the game was slipping away.
The Nets and Bulls traded baskets for the early part of the fourth quarter, with Chicago maintaining a 12-point lead throughout. Brooks stayed in till the end, even when the starters returned the floor, taking Reggie Evans’ spot.
A Brook Lopez dunk with 3:40 left got the Nets back to within nine points, at 77-68. Lopez (7 blocks) then swatted Carlos Boozer on the other end, and made a layup to cut the Bulls’ lead to seven.
The Nets’ defense delivered again, and Brooks hit a running jumper to pull them within five at 77-72 with two minutes left. Deng then fired up an air ball on the Bulls’ next possession, and the Nets could not respond, as the Bulls forced them into some sloppy play.
The Nets finally got to within three points, at 77-74, when Lopez slammed one down off a rebound with 14 seconds left. The Nets were forced to foul, and they sent Nate Robinson to the line, and he hit one of two free throws with 10.7 seconds on the clock.
When the Nets got the ball back, Johnson passed on a three-pointer, and Williams went for a layup to get them within two. They sent Joakim Noah to the line with 4.4 seconds left, and he missed the first free throw before hitting the second to give them a three-point lead, at 79-76.
On the Nets’ last chance, Johnson and Brooks were covered, so they got it to Watson, who was open in the corner, and threw up an air ball to end it.
The Bulls were led by Carlos Boozer with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and 16 rebounds. Luol Deng had 21 points, and Kirk Hinrich chipped in 12. The Nets were led by Brook Lopez with 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting with 9 rebounds. Deron Williams had 18 points, and Joe Johnson had 15 points.
Game 4 is Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Chicago