CHICAGO -- The Brooklyn Nets put a major emphasis on the opening six minutes Thursday night. Then they seemed to forget about the next 42.
The hot start that propelled the Nets to a 12-point lead in the first quarter was all but forgotten when they made just one of their next 25 attempts from the field. In the interim, the Chicago Bulls whipped their crowd into a frenzy, and vice versa, while taking a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven, first-round playoff series.
“I think we were getting stops and we were getting up the floor and they were kind of back on their heels a little bit,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “And even with that, a typical coach being greedy, whatever our lead was, we had three or four or five other shots in the paint, layups or missed opportunities inside. Whatever the score was it should have been even better than it was.”
Yet after all of it -- the rough shooting night and a 17-point deficit at one point -- the Nets still found themselves in striking distance in the closing moments of a grind-it-out slugfest. They fell short on yet another miss from the field as C.J. Watson's 3-pointer at the buzzer was off target and the Bulls walked away with a 79-76 victory.
The first half hardly looked so promising. From a Brook Lopez layup with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter to a Joe Johnson fallaway 11-footer with 3:38 remaining in the second quarter, the Nets made just one bucket and had an 0-for-14 stretch at one point.
And to think, it all started just how their coach had hoped.
“We have to be ready right from the beginning, especially that first six minutes,” Carlesimo said about an hour before game time. “I think the fact that we have played well on the road all year gives us reason to be confident.”
The fourth quarter was finally what the Nets were looking for as they shot 55 percent (11-of-20) and outscored the Bulls by 10 points, but their 13-minute, 45-second dry spell between the first and second quarters was too much to overcome.
“We’ve actually done that three times against them now, where we’ve come out and kind of hit them early and end up losing the game,” Nets guard Deron Williams said. “When we get those leads, we have to try to build on them and not let them come back. That’s almost a 30-point swing they had when they go back up 17.”
The numbers told the gruesome story. The Nets ended up shooting 22.7 percent in the first quarter and 22.5 in the first half. They finished the night 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) from 3-point range. Other unsightly first-half numbers included just four assists and a mere nine field goals.
“It was tough, but I’m glad our guys stuck together and persevered through it,” Lopez said. “I think if we can play like we did in the fourth quarter and the beginning of the first, this next game we’ll be all right.”
Lopez was solid with 22 points and nine rebounds, but Williams’ 18 points came on 5-of-14 shooting, including a 3-of-8 mark from 3-point range. Williams’ performance came after he made just one of nine shots in Game 2, making him six of 23 (26 percent) over the past two contests.
“In a playoff game you can’t get down 15 points, and we got down 17,” Williams said. “It’s just tough to come back from. You’re fighting an uphill battle all night.”
The Bulls are known for some menacing defense, but the Nets didn’t make it easy on themselves by missing open 3-pointers and good looks inside the paint.
“They’re doing a good job defensively,” Williams said. “They have a game plan, and they’re executing it. When we get the ball swung to the weak side and get some movement, we’re fine. But when we just let them keep us on one side, we’re struggling. We’re struggling to shoot the ball, score the ball and we’re playing right into what they want to do.”