The Nets appeared to get caught looking past the Bulls and toward the looming return of their own Big Three.
The Nets had neither the pace they needed on offense nor the activity they needed on defense. The result was an ugly 115-107 defeat on Sunday at United Center,05.1s037.nets-gamer.xml losing their four-game winning streak and (briefly) their place atop the Eastern Conference.
“We just weren’t real sharp, didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, didn’t have the requisite pace for our team to be as dynamic as we are offensively,” coach Steve Nash said. “But more importantly, defensively, we need to be more active, scramble more, be more decisive. [We] played at their pace. Not a great performance by us.”
Playing without Kevin Durant and James Harden, Nash experimented with a big lineup that featured LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin and admitted he didn’t love it. It worked early on, spotting them a nine-point cushion in the first quarter before they were outscored, 32-18, in the second.
“We weren’t quite sharp enough,” Nash said. “We didn’t move the ball enough, make quick enough decisions, get downhill and really stretch them out.”
The Nets (34-16) lost both Tyler Johnson and Landry Shamet in the fourth quarter. Then they lost the game, falling a half-game behind Philadelphia for first in the East before the 76ers lost, 116-100, to Memphis. The Nets and Sixers remain tied atop the conference standings.
“I didn’t like it a lot. We didn’t play with enough pace, not enough movement and activity,” Nash said. “We had a hard time spacing them out because we were a little bogged down. We were playing in tight spaces instead of making them guard in big spaces. Just wasn’t a great offensive performance from us, obviously.”
Kyrie Irving had 24 points and 15 assists, and Jeff Green added 21 points off the bench. But the Nets couldn’t answer a mid-game barrage from a Chicago team that came in having dropped six straight and eight of its last nine.
Zach LaVine had a game-high 25 points. Nikola Vucevic had 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Tomas Satoransky added 19 points and 11 assists for a Bulls team that shot 55.1 percent to snap a six-game skid.
The Nets jumped ahead, 24-15, behind Irving, Aldridge and Griffin. They still led 37-35 midway through the second quarter after an Irving turnaround bank shot, but that’s when things went sideways.
“I just thought we were a little bit clustered sometimes. We were trying to figure each other out and different lineups,” Griffin said. “It was a fine start. We just need more time together.”
The Nets saw Chicago close the half on a 22-9 run, with Irving describing them as “tentative.” They shot just 4 of 12 the rest of the half, and saw Chicago hit 9 of 13.
Down 76-59 in the third, they rallied with eight unanswered points only to see Vucevic and Satoransky pad it back to 89-72 after three quarters.
And despite another 8-0 run to open the fourth, the Nets couldn’t pull off another comeback win.