By Ian Parfrey @Ianparfrey
The Nets’ third-quarter collapse came four minutes early tonight, as the Bulls scored the last 15 points of the second to blow open a close game. After Joe Johnson’s layup gave the Nets a 39-38 lead, the Nets missed their next 11 shots, sprinkled in 5 turnovers, and dug themselves a hole they were never able to climb out of.
A garbage-time flurry brought the final score to an almost-respectable 96-85, but the Bulls led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter, and the outcome was never in doubt during the second half.
Looking at the bright spots first, Brook Lopez scored 22 points on 9-16 FG. Andray Blatche had 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals in 23 minutes off the bench. Lopez and Blatche even played together for nearly six minutes in the third quarter, and you have to think P.J. Carlesimo was encouraged by what he saw. The mini-renaissance of Mirza Teletovic also continued. MTV scored 9 points in 11 second-half minutes, making 4 of 7 shots, and draining a three-pointer. Both Blatche and Teletovic bring an element of unpredictability to the Nets’ offense that could be an asset against elite defensive teams.
The rest of it wasn’t pretty at all. The Nets opened the game on a 15-4 run, with six early points from both Lopez and Deron Williams. The Bulls came back to take a 27-25 lead when Keith Bogans fouled Joakim Noah (21 points, 10 rebounds) on a dunk, and the two teams traded baskets for most of the second quarter, before the Bulls dropped the hammer on Brooklyn.
To put it mildly, the Nets did not react well to the defensive pressure of the Bulls, turning the ball over 21 times. Joe Johnson, perhaps still not at 100% from his foot injury, had a tough night, and finished with 11 points and 5 turnovers. Reggie Evans did not score, and turned the ball over 4 times in 18 minutes.
As is frequently the case when the Nets play poorly, it’s hard to single out one culprit. Reggie Evans is an extremely limited offensive player, but the onus is on the coaching staff to get the most out of him, and tonight P.J. Carlesimo allowed the Bulls– already a great defensive team– to defend 5-on-4 for the crucial minutes of this game, while Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic were rotting on the bench. Teletovic didn’t get into the game until it was already out of hand, and the Nets’ other power forward option, Kris Humphries, only played 2 minutes tonight.
Deron Williams also failed to show up for this game, finishing with 14 points (4-12 FG) and 6 assists. Williams, and the other guards, were unable to consistently make plays, and far too many of their passes inside were picked off. Meanwhile, the Bulls shot 52% from the floor, and their big men, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, combined for 41 points on 19-29 FG.
The Nets have three days off before they face the hapless Bobcats in Charlotte on March 6. P.J. Carlesimo has some work to do, as the Nets’ big man rotation is in chaos, and Reggie Evans is being exposed as a starting power forward. The schedule over the next two weeks is relatively easy– they play twice against Atlanta, and four times against lottery-bound teams, which makes it a good, low-pressure time to try out the long-anticipated Lopez-Blatche combination.