Last year in the first round of the playoffs the Bulls defeated the Nets because they were tougher — their energy, their execution, their aggressive, physical style of play knocked the Nets off their game. It felt like finesse against power, and power won. Even if the Bulls were without their MVP. So this summer the Nets went out and added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who should change that dynamic.
Not Thursday night.
The last game before the All-Star break looked a lot like that series last season — the Bulls played with more energy, they executed better at both ends and their physicality knocked the Nets off their stride. It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Nets, but they looked at points wanting to start their vacation a few days early.
The result was a comfortable 92-76 win for the Bulls. That’s three straight wins for a Bulls team that at 27-25 seems to be on pace for a top four seed in the East and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Brooklyn at 24-27 are still the seven seed in the East and they start up after the break with six straight road games. What they don’t want to happen is to start slow and lock themselves into one of those bottom two seeds and face Indiana or Miami in the first round.
Chicago’s offense has been a little better of late — they’ve had an offensive rating of 102 points per 100 possessions in their last five games, up more than four per 100 in their last five game. That continued in this game, particularly at the start thanks to Carlos Boozer (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Taj Gibson (16 points, five rebounds). Noah had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Chicago shot 50 percent as a team in this game and they had a double-digit lead in the first quarter.
The Nets nibbled away at it that lead, making little runs and keeping it close at the end. Paul Pierce led the Nets with 15 points on 4-of-11 and shooting, which was better than Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, each of whom was 4-of-14 on the night.
Yet the Nets hung around and you wondered if there could be a late run. And there was…
By Chicago. The Bulls went on 9-0 run that starts with just under five minutes left in game, a run put them up by 12. They did it with some nice shooting, but mostly with defense and energy.
That’s why the Bulls beat the Nets in the playoffs last season, and that’s why the Bulls scare other teams more in the playoffs than the Nets do right now.