CHICAGO — After winning their three previous games with huge offensive explosions in the second half, maybe the Nets were due for a dud. They saw their five-game winning streak come to an end in a 118-95 loss to the Bulls Monday night at United Center, where they were outscored 42-17 in the fourth quarter as they ran out of gas in the second game of a back-to-back.
"Fourth quarter, we lost, 42-17," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "They turned it up. They got really physical and they gained ahold of the game. We were sloppy and didn’t play our best basketball down the stretch clearly. I don’t know if it was fatigue, but obviously our game fell apart a little bit in the fourth."
The Nets were up by four early in the fourth quarter when the Bulls stepped up their physicality at the defensive end, and it propelled an overwhelming 34-11 run that included 10 points from DeMar DeRozan to give them a 110-91 lead with 3:16 left to play. The Nets shot 4-for-17 with two turnovers in that stretch before raising the white flag and clearing the bench.
James Harden said fatigue might have played a role in the fourth-quarter collapse, but he blamed the Nets’ offensive execution more than anything else. "No flow, no understanding of what was going on in that fourth quarter, spacing," Harden said. "We got a couple good looks, but they just turned up the pressure in that fourth quarter. We missed shots, and they came down and pushed the ball and got in the paint and made shots.
Kevin Durant topped the Nets (7-4) with 38 points and 10 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points and Harden totaled 14 but scored only three over the final three quarters.
DeRozan led the Bulls (7-4) with 28 points and got 24-point support from Zach LaVine. The Bulls dominated points in the paint, 54-24, and outrebounded the Nets, 56-42.
The Nets came into face the Bulls while riding a five-game winning streak. But the real surprise for the Nets has come at the defensive end, where they rank sixth in the NBA with a103.4 rating compared to 23rd last season at 113.8. But the Bulls are seventh in defensive rating at 103.6, so the game figured to be a physical struggle for both teams.
The game began as an offensive showcase in the first quarter as the Bulls took a 35-27 lead with the help of a 17-7 rebounding margin and a dominant 18-2 difference on points in the paint.
But the second unit found a way to slow the Bulls down in the second period, and Aldridge scored 12 of his 15 first-half points in an extended 18-6 run to give the Nets a 43-41 lead. Late in the quarter Joe Harris hit back-to-back threes in another 10-0 surge that pushed the Nets’ lead to 55-47.
Both teams labored on the offensive end in the third quarter, which ended with the Nets clinging to a 78-76 lead, but after the first-quarter fireworks, the game definitely had devolved into a defensive slugfest, and the Bulls delivered the knockout punch in the fourth quarter.
"They got tough shotmakers," Durant said of the Bulls. "You can’t get discouraged when you got all-world players like that that can make shots over opponents. We had some spurts where we got stops, a lot of stops in a row and we were able to get a lead. But good offense beats good defense."
Asked if the Nets would treat this loss as a one-off before continuing their road trip Wednesday in Orlando, Harden said, "Yeah, it was a bad quarter. Not even a game. Just a bad quarter. We only scored 17 points, they scored 42. So that’s the game right there."