Rapid Reaction: Bulls 79, Nets 76

WHAT IT MEANS: Too little, too late.

For the second straight game, the Brooklyn Nets struggled to score, and fell 79-76 to the Chicago Bulls in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Thursday night at United Center. The Nets now trail the Bulls 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

The Nets jumped out to a 12-point lead early, but trailed by as many as 17 with 9:33 left in the fourth. They valiantly rallied back and had a chance to tie, but C.J. Watson air-balled a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer.

After shooting 55.8 percent from the field in Game 1, the Nets shot 35.4 percent in Game 2 and 34.6 percent in Game 3.

So far, Chicago’s tenacious, hounding defense under coach Tom Thibodeau has been the story. And the Nets, who rely so much on isolation sets on offense, have not been able to adjust.

Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng were unstoppable for the Bulls, finishing with a combined 43 points and 26 rebounds.

FUTILITY DEFINED: The Nets jumped out to a 17-5 lead by making five of their first eight shots. And then? They missed 14 straight shots to end the first quarter. And then? They made one of their next 12 shots (0-for-15 and 1-for-26 stretches). In all? They ended up making four of their last 32 field goals in the opening half. In the first 24 minutes of the game, the Nets went 9-for-40 from the field (22.5 percent), 3-for-12 from 3-point range. Somehow, some way, they trailed only 41-34 at the break.

D-WILL TRACKER: Coming off a 1-for-9 performance in Game 2, Deron Williams scored 18 points and had four assists in Game 3. D-Will got off to a hot start (see below), but opened up just 1-for-7 from the field. He missed a 3-pointer that would’ve brought the Nets within two with 49 seconds remaining.

JOE DOES GO: Joe Johnson, who was a game-time decision due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot, started and scored 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting in 41 minutes.

BROOK-LYN: After recording back-to-back 21-point, 5-rebound, 3-block performances in Games 1 and 2, Brook Lopez went for 22 points, 9 rebounds and had 7 blocked shots in Game 3. His seven blocks in a game are the second most in Nets playoff history (Derrick Coleman, nine).

NOTHING THERE: Gerald Wallace struggled offensively for a second straight game, scoring just five points. Brooklyn’s Bench Mob combined to score just 16 points. Watson, a key performer off the pine in Games 1 and 2, went just 1-for-8 from the field.

5:35: D-Will scored eight points in the first 5 minutes and 35 seconds of the game. It was the same amount of points he scored in Game 2. He didn’t score the rest of the first half.

POSTERIZATION: Taj Gibson’s one-handed slam in the lane over Kris Humphries in the second quarter would look nice on any kid’s wall.

UP NEXT: Game 4, Saturday at 2 p.m. ET at United Center.