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Kevin Durant scores season-high 38 points but Nets run out of gas in fourth, lose to Bulls, 118-95

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Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Just not enough legs to finish it off.

The Nets fell to the Bulls in Chicago Monday night, 118-95. With the loss, Brooklyn falls to 7-4 on the young season and had their five-game winning streak snapped.

“I think we had plenty of good looks tonight, but we didn’t get in the paint enough in the second half. Really in the fourth quarter, I thought it was difficult. Kevin obviously kept us in it. We had some decent play in the third quarter but the fourth quarter, we didn’t live up to our standards, didn’t play well, didn’t create enough opportunities to get into the paint and they were more physical than us.”

Kevin Durant did his best to keep the Nets afloat in the fourth but the team was outscored 44-17 in the fourth and ran out of gas in the final minutes. How bad was it?

“No flow. No understanding of what was going on in that fourth quarter,” said James Harden on the Nets play in the final 12 minutes of play. “Spacing; I feel like we got a couple good looks but not enough pressure in that fourth quarter. We missed shots and they came down and pushed the ball, got in the paint, and made shots.”

Durant finished the second game of the back-to-back with his sixth double-double of a season-high 38 points on 13-of-24 shooting from the field and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. The Nets superstar recorded back-to-back 30+ point games for the first time this season and has scored 20+ in all 11 games this season, a Nets record and the longest such streak he’s had in his career.

“Yeah, we’re frustrated. I mean, we want to win every game. It’s a good feeling being frustrated but understanding how we can get better from this, move on from this and realize we got three more games on this trip,” said Durant on the defeat. “I know we want to get better after each game and reflect on each game, but we got to start moving forward. We understand why we lost. That’s a good part.”

LaMarcus Aldridge delivered another offensive boost off the bench in the loss, finishing with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field in 23 minutes of play, all but four in the first half. James Harden was the only other Net to finish the second game of the back-to-back in double-figures — 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 34 minutes of action. Less of a signature game than he had in Toronto, another example of a season where he’s made two steps forward, one step back.

Joe Harris finished with nine points, taking only nine shots. He hit 3-of-5 of his three’s but at one point, Durant could be heard encouraging Harris to shoot more.

Brooklyn finished the loss shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three. The Nets did their best on the boards but were outrebounded, 56-42, a now common occurrence, win or lose. The Bulls also took 12 more shots than the Nets, another common occurrence.

Nash wasn’t pleased with the Nets' aggressiveness — or lack of such — in getting to the paint. The team was outscored by a massive margin of 54-24 in the paint. Turnovers also played a factor in the loss — 15 turnovers for 17 points.

“I thought we could’ve done a better job of being physical with them like the way they were with us and try to protect our paint a little better. I think it also made it tough on us that we weren’t getting in their paint: A lot of long rebounds, easy for them to push it down the court, get into actions quickly,” said Nash on the lack of aggressiveness getting to the paint. “Just a poor fourth quarter for us.”

As for the game — The Nets put out the same starting lineup for the eighth straight contest — Harden, Harris, Durant, Bruce Brown and Blake Griffin. It was evident there were tired legs on Brooklyn’s end of the court. Meanwhile, Chicago had a hot start. The Bulls opened the contest pushing the tempo and thrived off getaways in early offense.

The Nets had no answer for Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls offense with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting overall and to put the Bulls — who shot 65 percent from the field and outscored the Nets 18-2 in the paint — ahead 35-27 after one.

It was the Aldridge — 15 points at the half — show to start the second. The Nets veteran big solely led an 8-2 run to cut the 10-point deficit to four in the first three minutes of the second. Although Aldridge’s 20-foot mid-range jumper at the 6:20 mark gave Brooklyn their first lead of the game, things got weird and sloppy as both teams pushed the pace hard ... and whistles weren’t favoring the Nets. At one point, when the refs finally sent Harden to the line, the Nets guard did a sarcastic celebration.

Brooklyn’s defense stepped up and gave Chicago plenty of problems in the final five minutes of the second. The defense closed the driving lanes and shooting gaps through sharp rotations to hold Chicago scoreless from the field in the final 4:30. The offense followed behind the play of Durant, Harris and Aldridge’s old man game to outscore the Bulls, 30-16, in the second to take a 57-51 advantage at the half.

Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Although Brooklyn was better on the boards in the third quarter, Chicago stepped up defensively and their rotations were giving the Nets problems finding open looks until Durant got to his spots. After three straight dominant third quarters against Hawks, Pistons and Raptors, the Nets couldn’t get it going vs. the Bulls.

The league's leading scorer scored 25 points heading into the final 12 minutes of play but didn’t get much help from his teammates in the third as Harden and Aldridge cooled down. Despite slow offensive contributions, DeAndre’ Bembry pulled together a series of key defensive stops in the final minutes to help Brooklyn hit the fourth with a flimsy 78-76 lead.

Then, it all collapsed in dramatic fashion.

The Bulls had the upper hand starting the fourth with Durant and Harden on the bench, forging a 9-0 run to build a five-point lead with nine minutes remaining. Before Chicago extended the run to 13-0 and grow a 10-point lead, it was a scary scene for the Nets as Durant dove on the ground for a loose ball and was favoring his right shoulder shortly after.

Although Durant did his best to keep the Nets alive, the superstar didn’t get much help scoring the ball from his teammates. The Bulls swelled their lead to 19 and at the 3:14 mark of the fourth, Nash and the Nets emptied their bench to finish the contest.

“It looked like they turned it up. They got really physical and they gained control 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 or what it was,” said Steve Nash on the loss. “We’ll look at the tape, but obviously our game fell apart in the fourth.”

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with a team-high 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field in 35 minutes of play followed by LaVine with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting. The three other starters for Chicago — Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic and JaVonte Green — scored 11 points each.

The Film Room

In case you missed it, we gushed about James Harden’s return to form against Toronto. The numbers wouldn’t show it, but that burst translated in spurts the very next night against Chicago in the second half of a brutal back-to-back — at least in the first half. Below, he splits two Bulls defenders (Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine) and even drew a final call! Yes, finally! A foul call!

But the real excitement came from the budding partnership between Harden and one of the most reliable players on the roster, LaMarcus Aldridge, who continued to sprinkle in midrange jumpers after coming into Monday’s game shooting 83% from midrange.

Much of Harden and Aldridge’s two-man chemistry came in the pick-and-roll early in the season, with Harden setting up Aldridge’s screen and Aldridge rolling hard to the rim. Unfortunately, at 36 years old, Aldridge didn’t exactly generate a ton of pop as a roll-man. Though both players are incredibly talented hoopers, their chemistry wasn’t apparent in screen-and-dive situations. Harden tends to fair well next to roll-men that can pop athletically (see: Clint Capela in Houston). Aldridge is not that.

Against Chicago, Harden and Aldridge altered their pick-and-roll game plan. Rather than rolling all the way to the basket, Aldridge simply stopped short on his rim-run at 18 feet — his happy place on the floor this season. The pick-and-roll became a pick-and-pop, and the Nets benefited from it greatly.

Being spoon-fed easy looks from one of the best passers in the sport only boosted Aldridge’s already-sky-high confidence levels. He began nailing mid-range jump shots off the dibble.

LaMarcus Aldridge and James Harden shared the floor for just 4 total minutes last season. They’re still figuring out how to work together... how Harden laces his passes, where Aldridge likes to pick-and-pop. You know, those idiosyncrasies.

Ultimately, the Nets mostly ditched their winning Aldridge-Harden formula in the second half in favor of lots of “please save us, Kevin Durant” isolations. That was kind of the theme of the night – the Nets going away from what worked. Aldridge himself commented on it after the game.

“I thought I was a big factor in the first half,” said Aldridge about his pick-and-pop shooting performance. “In the second half, I don’t think we did it as much, but we had, you know, Kev was going and James was trying to get to the rim. So I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I think that’s why in the first half, I was able to impact a little bit more because we just kept the bigs in pick-and-roll.”

Hopefully, the Nets continue to make this forceful pick-and-fade attack an integral part of what they do.

Rookies with Nets but for how long?

The Nets called up Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe from their G League affiliate Monday, flying them to Chicago for New York. With 3:14 left in the fourth and the Nets in free fall, Steve Nash called on the two. Sharpe scored in the paint, scoring two points and grabbing a rebound while Thomas was scoreless. The MVP of the Summer League — and now one of the high scorers in the G League — played in six games, but has yet to make a field goal.

How long with they stay with Brooklyn? No indication. Long Island Nets open at home — Nassau Coliseum — on Wednesday. Will they be back in New York or with the Nets in New Orleans?

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will travel to Orlando on Wednesday, Nov. 10 when the team faces the Magic. Will Steve Nash rest either or both of his superstars? The game is scheduled to tip at 7:00 p.m. ET. and will be televised on YES Network.

For a different perspective on Monday night’s game, check out Blog a Bull — our sister site covering the Bulls.