CHICAGO — Other than losing, the closest thing to a constant for the Nets this season has been the injury-related absences of main cog Jeremy Lin, who missed his 19th game with a hamstring injury Wednesday night at United Center. Just when it appeared the Nets were beginning to adapt to dire circumstances, they blew a seven-point lead in the final 3:02 before Jimmy Butler hit a 20-foot jumper at the final buzzer to help the Bulls pull out a 101-99 victory.
Butler dribbled as the clock ran down and then nailed a pure shot from the top of the key over Bojan Bogdanovic. He scored nine points in the Bulls’ finishing 11-2 run, and he totaled 40 points and 11 rebounds. It was stellar performance when the Bulls had to have it with star Dwyane Wade in the locker room with a migraine.
Asked if there was any consideration of doubling Butler as hot as he was down the stretch, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, “We were not going to double-team Butler at the end. We wanted to play straight up with our bigs, and I thought Bogie did a good job. We did not want to get into making rotations at that point. He hit a highly contested two with a tall guy on him. That’s the shot we wanted taken.”
Atkinson complimented his players for their resilience and especially for a solid defensive effort when they were shorthanded without Lin and guard Joe Harris, who sat out with a hip pointer. “We had a team effort all night with opportunities for wide-open shots, tips and free throws,” Atkinson said, alluding to some of the Nets’ missed opportunities in the final three minutes. “I liked our defense the whole game. We had signs out there at the end, but . . . Butler made a great shot at the end.”
Brook Lopez had another outstanding performance, leading the Nets (8-23) with 33 points, including hitting a career-high five three-pointers in six attempts. Sean Kilpatrick added 18 points, and veteran Randy Foye came off the bench with 11 points one game after hitting a buzzer-beater to win over Charlotte at home. The Nets also made 13 of 33 three-pointers (39.4 percent).
Wade added 16 for the Bulls (16-16) in 22 minutes, and they got 12 assists from Rajon Rondo.
Despite their leadership, Lopez, Kilpatrick and Foye all had lapses in the final three minutes. Foye missed two foul shots while protecting a four-point lead. Kilpatrick committed a turnover that led to a layup by Michael Carter-Williams that tied the score at 97 with 1:22 to play. Lopez missed two layup attempts, and then Foye threw an high inbounds pass that Lopez couldn’t control because his defender was leaning on him and he couldn’t get up in the air. That led to the go-ahead jumper in the lane by Butler for a 99-97 lead.
“Chicago just made a great push,” Lopez said. “I’m just a little disappointed in myself. I definitely should have converted on a couple of those last possessions. I let them get back in the game.”
With 12.6 seconds left, though, Lopez drove and dunked over his twin brother Robin to tie the score at 99. But then Butler drove a stake through the Nets’ hearts.
“Situations like that happen,” Kilpatrick said. “They made big plays. It’s tough to swallow a pill like that, especially when we played great defense the whole game. Butler made plays when they needed them, especially when Wade was hurt. He put their team on his back. This was by far one of the worst [losses] because we battled the whole game, and then to lose on a buzzer-beater like that.”