The Nets, sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, don’t have too much to play for in their remaining regular-season games.
However, the Bulls, riding a three-game winning streak, came into the game tonight looking to keep their playoff hopes alive. They were only a couple of games behind the Wizards for the tenth seed and final play-in spot. A win tonight could’ve brought them that much closer to life beyond the regular season.
With so much on the line, Zach LaVine and the Bulls gave it their all, ultimately losing to the Nets 115-107. LaVine was the highest-scoring player overall, scoring 41 points while going 6-11 from behind the arch. For the Nets, it was the definition of a team effort. Kevin Durant led the Nets in scoring with 21 points but the bigger story is the distribution. Out of the nine players to feature, only one of them didn’t score in the double digits: Landry Shamet, who only had one point.
Nets Dominate in the First Half
From the get-go, you could tell it was going to be a strong performance from the Nets. Joe Harris and Blake Griffin both hit quick three-pointers to help start the game on an 8-0 run. From there, the Nets did not concede the lead for the entirety of the first half. In fact, they led by 17 points at one point during the second quarter–their largest lead in that time.
Out of all the players on the court, it was Bruce Brown who was the most impressive. He was originally listed as questionable for tonight with a “facial contusion” before being upgraded to the starting lineup. Even though his nose was still broken, he wore a mask and gave his all on the court. He finished the first half with 15 points–the highest-scoring Net during that time. Also featured heavily was Kyrie Irving, who had 13 points. He went 4-9, including 3-5 from behind the arch.
On the other side of the court, LaVine had the sole answer with 17 points. He went 7-10 (3-5 from three) and was the only Bulls player to score in the double digits.
More of the Same in the Second Half
A halftime pep-talk could not save the Bulls who, despite out-scoring the Nets by 11 in the fourth quarter, never overcame the deficit they faced. In fact, Chicago did not lead at any point during the entire 48 minutes.
Despite this, LaVine left it all on the court by singlehandedly keeping his team in contention. He scored 24 points in the second half, including 13 in the final frame. Overall, only Colby White and Nikola Vucevic came close with 16 points and 12 points, respectively. Vucevic also got 12 rebounds, giving him a double-double on the night.
For the Nets, it was a combined effort. Durant had a better half, scoring 13 points while going 5-7. Mike James, a new addition who we recently featured in another article, also faired well with 11 points and this nasty crossover. The big story, however, came from Irving. About two minutes into the first half, he was accidentally elbowed in the face by Vucevic. Irving went down and was attended to by trainers, but was able to exit on his own. Shortly thereafter, he was ruled out of the rest of the game with a facial contusion. There isn’t a timetable for his return yet, but fans will be hoping that he will be better in time for the playoffs.
Even though the extent of the contusion is unknown, fans can look at another player for some hope. Brown, coming back from his own facial contusion, finished the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. Who knows? Maybe his mask unlocked a new level in him. Only time will tell if Irving will need a mask and if his powers will double just as Brown’s did.
Looking Ahead for the Nets
The clock is winding down on the regular season, with just three games left for the Nets. Thankfully, they play all of them at home. They have a quick turnaround before playing the Spurs tomorrow night and then they have a couple of days off before back-to-back games this weekend; they play the Bulls again on Saturday and the Cavaliers on Sunday.
Riding a two-game winning streak, the Nets will be hoping to finish their season strong. Even though their playoff placement is almost a guarantee, they will still need as much momentum as they can get before heading into the playoffs. Luckily, their last three opponents aren’t the most threatening. If the Nets can finish their homework by building momentum in these final regular-season games, there will be no stopping them once the playoffs begin.