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Nets can’t overcome deficit late as Nets fall to Bulls, 115-107; Tyler Johnson hurt

Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It was more than a loss for the record books for Brooklyn Sunday.

Without James Harden and Kevin Durant, the Nets fell behind early and couldn’t overcome the deficit, losing to the Bulls, 115-107.

The Nets, who entered the fourth trailing by 17, made it a seven-point game on a late push in the fourth with their eyes set on escaping with a win, just as did twice last week. No such luck this time.

The Bulls came up with a big offensive rebound which resulted in Zach LaVine burying a 26-foot dagger three to put the Bulls up seven with 1:22 remaining. LaVine finished with 25 points in 35 minutes for Chicago. Steve Nash pulled the starters with 48.1 seconds remaining as the Bulls escaped with the win to improve to 20-28 on the year, ending a six- game losing streak.

“We weren’t real sharp tonight. Didn’t shoot the ball particularly well and didn’t have the requisite pace for our team to be dynamic offensively but more importantly, I thought we needed to be more active defensively,” Nash said. “Be more decisive and played at their pace tonight. Not a great performance by us but we’ll learn from it and keep going.”

With the loss, the Nets fall to 34-16 on the season and drop to second in the Eastern Conference standings. Outside of a loss in the standing, the game included some other losses.

Brooklyn faced two injury scares in the fourth. TylerJohnson appeared to hurt his right knee running up the court, a non-contact injury. Johnson was helped to the bench by Alize Johnson and Timothe Luawau-Cabarrot, putting barely any pressure on his knee. The Nets combo guard walked on his own power to the locker room but walked very gingerly. Brooklyn ruled Johnson out for the remainder of the game with a right knee strain. He finished with two points in 14 minutes.

Following Johnson’s departure, Shamet appeared to roll his right ankle - the same ankle that resulted in him missing five games - was subbed out and didn’t return to the game.

“We’ll see how they look in the morning. Tyler is going to get his knee evaluated and probably a scan but we don’t have any updates,” Nash said. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

All five Nets starters finished in double-figures. Kyrie Irving paved the way for Brooklyn scoring 24 points to go along with 15 assists and two rebounds in 39 minutes. Irving struggled shooting the ball going 12-of-27 from the field and 0-of-4 from deep.

Jeff Green had another great game for Brooklyn as he finished with 21 points, two assists and a rebound in 25 minutes off the bench. The Nets finished the loss shooting 48.4 percent overall and 39.3 percent from deep.

“I think we just missed shots to tell you the truth,” Green said on the loss.

For Chicago, Nikola Vucevic continued his terror on the Nets for the first time in a Bulls uniform. The center posted 22 points and 13 rebounds on 10-of-17 shooting in 32 minutes as Chicago finished the win shooting 55.1 percent overall and 36.4 percent from deep. In four games vs. Brooklyn, Vucevic is averaging 26.3 points and 13.3 rebounds.

The Nets opened the contest missing their first six shots but Blake Griffin got the Nets on the board with a nifty and-one post up followed by a straightaway three to tie the game.

Brooklyn’s offense was flowing. LaMarcus Aldridge and Griffin carried the load, taking advantage of their ability to space the floor. The frontcourt duo, both of whom started, scored 13 of the Nets 28 first-quarter points but, Chicago got a late period boost to cut the deficit to three as the Nets headed to the second with a 28-25 lead. Brooklyn’s biggest lead was nine points as the team shot 45.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from deep.

The Bulls opened the second cutting the deficit to one and tied up the score at 31 with 7:52 remaining. Both teams started to find a rhythm offensively, trading baskets along the way. For the Nets, Irving put on a show in the second, which included an eye-popping lefty bank shot from the foul line and a handful of nifty finishes to finish the first half with a team-high 10 points and five assists in 18 minutes.

Chicago got stops and on the other end, forged a 22-9 that spanned over five minutes to close out the second nursing a 57-46 lead. The Nets went cold late, ending the first half shooting 41.3 percent from the field but struggled from behind the arc, shooting 28.6 percent (4-of-14).

“I didn’t like it a lot. I thought we didn’t play with enough pace and not enough movement or activity,” Nash said about the closing of the first half. “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. It wasn’t a great offensive performance from us tonight. Some of it is shot-making but more of it is playing at that pace.”

The Bulls came out of the locker room spreading the scoring while mixing in two threes to balloon their lead to 15 as Nash called an early timeout with 8:48 remaining. The Nets, who struggled to make shots in the third, forged a 9-0 scoring run to cut the deficit to 11 but Chicago continued to respond off Brooklyn’s scoring runs to head into the final 12 minutes of play boasting an 89-72 lead.

Nash played Chris Chiozza, Alize Johnson, and Nic Claxton, along with Landry Shamet and Jeff Green who kicked off the fourth with back-to-back threes, contributing to an 8-0 run to cut the Bulls' lead to nine, leading to Billy Donovan to call a timeout with 10:42 remaining.

After injuries to Johnson and Shamet, the Nets made a late-game push looking to overcome a game-long deficit, forging an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to seven but couldn’t pull away with the comeback win in the end.

The Film Room

Pre-game, Steve Nash expressed some optimism about playing LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin together.

“I think LaMarcus and Blake could very well play together. It’s still very early. We’d like to look at different things. But those two can certainly play together in that they can both stretch the floor and they both can post-up. Blake can play make and LaMarcus is a good passer out of the post,” explained Nash. “I think there’s potential there for that to be a combination in certain scenarios.”

Shortly after, Brooklyn’s starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge was announced. And while that lineup certainly has its positives, namely heaps of scoring and pick-and-pop options galore, it’s also SLOW. AS. MOLASSES. The numbers support that claim; hat tip to John Schuhmann, but the Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge pairing produced a -19.5 net rating in the 22 minutes of shared floor time. Egad!

Nash, always attentive to noticing whether an experiment has gone right or wrong, quickly changed his stance on that pairing after the game.

“We experimented with the big lineup,” said Nash after the loss. “Very unlike us in some respects. I don’t love it for us. Having said that, it’s hard to judge on one performance... Going forward, that’s not something I think we’ll see a ton of.”

Moreover, with Aldridge, Irving, and Aldridge — Brooklyn’s three-best creators given the shorthanded roster — all in the same lineup, this meant that Nash’s bench unit wasn’t exactly stuffed with offensive punch. Like, who exactly is the best scorer in a grouping of Jeff Green, Nicolas Claxton, Landry Shamet, Tyler Johnson, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Shamet, right?

What resulted was sloppy play from a unit that didn’t have much to offer.

Look, it’s the first game in a back-to-back, and the Nets are currently running heavily on its reserves with Kevin Durant and James Harden out of the fold. So you can’t fault Steve Nash for trying things, mixing and matching combinations with his new players. But this one was a dud. Onto the next.

Steve Nash on ruling James Harden out: ‘It’s just precaution’

Prior to Sunday’s game against the Bulls, Steve Nash said he held James Harden out against the Bulls for precaution as he missed his second straight game with right hamstring tightness.

“It’s just precaution. If this was a playoff game, I’m pretty sure he’d be here with us but I think we all wanted to be cautious and give him an opportunity for an extra day's rest,” Nash said. “Make sure he is as healed as possible. We’re trying to make a measured decision.”

Neither Harden or Kevin Durant traveled with the Nets to Chicago for Sunday’s game. Instead, both superstars are back in Brooklyn working with the performance team on their respective rehabs.

“They’re working out today back home. We left some staff behind to work with them to save them the travel.”

Going small down the stretch came at a cost

The Nets went small down the stretch, substituting Joe Harris for Nicolas Claxton at the 9:26-mark in the fourth quarter, thereby sliding Jeff Green to the center position. This was likely done to go “all offense” and dig the Nets out of the 13-point deficit.

But what this meant for the Nets is that Nicolas Claxton only played 8 total minutes after his breakout month of March, in which the 21-year-old averaged 20.2 minutes per game. For reference, he played just 14 minutes against the Charlotte Hornets, the first game since the LaMarcus Aldridge signing. No reason to raise the alarm just yet, but it’s already something to watch.

His time on the floor (or lack thereof) earned some callouts from some of the industry’s brightest and best.

Even so, Claxton earned a shoutout from his new teammate Blake Griffin after the game.

“Nic’s energy is just unbelievable,” said Griffin of Clax. “He goes and gets to rebounds he has no business getting, can sit down and guard 1-through-5, and then does a great job of finishing.”

As said before, it’s something to watch. Nothing to freak out about. It’s just worth monitoring.

Or as Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley...

What’s next

The Nets will return to action Monday as the team hosts the New York Knicks at Barclays Center. The game is set to tip at 7:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Blog a Bull - our sister site covering the Chicago Bulls.