(670 The Score) Bulls coach Billy Donovan feared his team’s lack of discipline in a few areas might be exploited sometime soon against a premier foe. Star forward DeMar DeRozan could sense the visiting Nets had extra juice in them and revenge on their mind Wednesday.
What followed was well-played, tightly contested first half between the East’s top two teams, then an absolute destruction in the second half at the United Center. With their full complement of three stars, the second-place Nets used a 43-8 run in across the third quarter and early in the fourth to take full control in a 138-112 victory against the first-place Bulls (27-12), who were left humbled by the defeat.
“Everybody’s frustrated,” said Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who had a team-high 22 points. “Obviously, you’re really upset. Getting your butt kicked on national television is not a fun thing after playing a pretty solid first half. It brings you back down to earth. It’s one game. You lose by two, you lose by 30, it’s still a loss. You just want to go and see why you lost the way you did."
The Bulls didn’t have to do much searching to understand why they lost. Nets stars Kevin Durant (27 points on 7-of-10 shooting and nine assists) and James Harden (25 points, 16 assists) got to their spots easily and efficiently carved up Chicago’s defense as Brooklyn shot 56.3%, recorded 19 fast-break points and committed just 10 turnovers.
The Bulls played without guard Alex Caruso and forward Javonte Green, two of their top defenders, and also lost forward Derrick Jones Jr. to a right knee injury less than a minute into the game. Even so, Donovan refused to cite those absences in any way for what took place. He instead expressed disappointment in the Bulls committing too many silly fouls and in their subpar transition defense.
He didn’t question his Bulls’ effort for a second but rather their lack of discipline, which he views as an area Chicago must tighten up to have any chance to beat the East’s best teams in a playoff series.
“That was my whole point when people talk about Javonte and talk about maybe Alex and I don’t know where Derrick’s situation is right now, that’s got nothing to do with running back in transition, blocking out, fouling,” Donovan said. “That has nothing to do with those guys. And every guy on our team, we’ve got to get much, much better at those things.
“My whole focus is we have to get better. We have to get better.”
The Bulls had beaten the Kyrie Irving-less Nets in their first two matchups of the season, but Wednesday was different because Irving’s return gave Brooklyn its full complement of stars and better floor spacing on a night they shot 17-of-32 on 3-pointers. Asked about his impression of the Nets – who now trail the Bulls by 1.5 games at the top of the East standings – LaVine called them “really good” and hinted at what may lie ahead.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to face if we’re going to go where we need to,” LaVine said. “We got the (season series) on them right now. We’re not going to be able to play them again until later on (in the playoffs), hopefully. And then we’ll see what’s up.”
Donovan made the point in his postgame comments that he’s hopeful the Bulls can learn from the lopsided setback, saying, “I don’t think you throw it out – I think you own it.” It’s a message that DeRozan echoed postgame.
“Own it,” DeRozan said. “Understand we got our ass kicked tonight. It’s about how we bounce back from that. This is a team we beat twice. We knew they were going to come in here and try to get their get-back. And they did what they were supposed to do. It’s about how we respond from this going forward. Let it sink in, let it suck, let it hurt, understand we got our butt whooped. We got another big test ahead of us next game.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.