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All gas, no breaks: Nets blow out Bulls in Chicago, 138-112

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

Steve Nash said Thursday night’s game against the Bulls shouldn’t be viewed as a statement game. Instead, it was much more. It was a Brooklyn bombardment.

“We’re not trying to make no statements to the league. I mean, who cares what they think. We know what we bring to the table and it’s just all about us,” said Kevin Durant on whether this win serves as a reminder of what the team can bring to the table. “I’m sure people were watching the game tonight.”

The Nets put on a dazzling performance, blowing out the East-best Bulls, 138-112 in Chicago. The 138 points are the most points scored by the Nets in Chicago in franchise history and most this season. With the victory, Brooklyn improves to 26-14 on the season and bumps their league-best road record to 15-4. After the win, the Nets trail Chicago by a game and a half for the top seed in the East.

“I think the No. 1 thing was team spirit. Outstanding. From the start, we were all business. We came to compete, play, support each other and you can feel the energy from the group,” said Nash on the 138-112 win. “I thought our resolve was great. Our will was great and we played fairly well until we were able to blow it open, which was a very impressive third quarter.”

After trailing by two points at the half, Brooklyn floored the gas pedal, outscoring the Bulls 41-17 in the third, and finished the quarter on a scary 30-8 run. Unlike recent games, the Nets didn’t relax in the fourth, growing their lead to a season-high 38 points, and didn’t look back or sideways. Why should they? There was no one in sight.

A lot of the game looked like this...

And this, a double dive and dunk — a play filled with hustle and energy that sparked even more momentum for Brooklyn.

“Just that energy they play with. DB came out and was a menace on the defensive side of the ball; fighting over screens and being there. Blake was orchestrating that all with him and Sharpe letting us all know from the backside where we need to be on the defensive end. When we’re all on one string like that, it’s tough.”

In fact, Joe Tsai took to Twitter to recognize the hustle...

Kevin Durant recorded his franchise-record-tying 12th straight game with 25+ points (27 points, two rebounds and nine assists in 30 minutes. The Nets had the luxury of resting Durant for the entirety of the final frame. James Harden also had another strong performance with a near triple-double of 25 points, seven rebounds and a season-high 16 assists in 33 minutes. The double-double was Harden’s 23rd of the season for the Nets superstar.

“Nah. We’re that good. Like we have a chance to be that good. We just haven’t had enough of it,” said Harden on whether he’s surprised how well the ‘Big Three’ have clicked through two games this season. “Last year, we probably had fifteen games together, maybe a little more or a little less. And this year, only two. We haven’t had a real like bulk of a season. Y’all can see how consistently great we can be, and we’re working on that. We need to get to that point.”

Kyrie Irving had a quiet outing with nine points, four rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes. Irving shot 4-of-10 from the field and 1-of-3 from 3-point range. Patty Mills looked like his shooting slump is over. The Aussie guard tallied 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting overall and 6-of-8 from deep in 22 minutes off the bench.

“We had an unbelievable resolve I felt like all night,” said Irving on the win. “We were in that flow where it gets dangerous for other teams or our opponent. We’re hitting threes. We’re getting to the rim, touching the paint and I think in that Portland game, we had some carryover from that of not overpassing but being aggressive for one another.”

And it was yet another strong showing for the four Nets rookies. Day’Ron Sharpe recorded another career-high with 20 points to go with seven rebounds in 22 minutes. Kessler Edwards tallied nine points, one rebound and an assist. Cam Thomas and David Duke Jr. had quiet outings in garbage time, combining for six points in only 27 minutes.

“We really like them both,” said Nash on Sharpe and Edwards. “We like all the rookies. It’s just a matter of giving them opportunities. David Duke had a five-game stretch. Kessler’s deserved it too. He’s been really great. I think he has length, athleticism, and he’s really good at defensive instincts and sticking to the game plan, and Day’Ron gives us something different: he’s got great hands, he’s physical, he’s got a knack for a few things out there on the floor for a 24-year-old.”

The Nets started Irving, Harden, Durant, Edwards and Sharpe. The Bulls suffered a blow early, losing Derrick Jones Jr. to a knee injury 36 seconds into the contest. It was a first quarter with flow. Neither team called a timeout until the 2:43 mark (29-29).

The defense was strong, which led to sharp ball movement and great spacing in the first that generated good looks. Brooklyn concluded the first on a 9-2 burst, taking a 38-31 advantage after one. The 38 points tallied in the quarter mark the second-most in any opening frame this season.

The strong offensive play carried over into the second with Brooklyn nursing an eight-point lead with 6:56 left. Brooklyn’s youth continued to provide good minutes and helped generate quality looks for Durant. Mills’ heated up in the second, drilling four three’s and while Harden was aggressive getting to the rim, Irving didn’t get off to a strong start. Irving got his first shot to fall with just under four minutes left, after missing his first four attempts to help Brooklyn go up 57-51 with 3:09 left.

Zach LaVine (17 points in 18 minutes) heated up for the Bulls, cutting the eight-point deficit to only two points (62-60) when the halftime buzzer sounded. The Nets’ “Big Three” combined for half of the team’s 62 points (31 points) while Mills led the bench with 11 points. As a team, the Nets dished 16 assists on their 21 made shots.

Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The “Big Three” and the kids continued to get the job done in the third. After a strong series of sequences that included two blocks from Edwards and Sharpe and a Harden triple, the Nets forged a 7-0 burst to extend their advantage to seven points (78-71). Although Edwards and Sharpe were putting on a good show, both picked up their fourth personal foul and hit the bench midway through the frame.

And then the Nets dominated the Bulls and everything was going Brooklyn’s way in the final five minutes of the third. Brooklyn concluded the quarter on an extended 30-8 run to take a 101-79 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Nets opened the fourth with consecutive highlight plays and built their advantage to a season-high.

“We forced turnovers. We held them to 19 points. We got out in transition and that was probably it,” said Nash on the team’s 30-8 run. “Before we got the turnovers and the transition points, we were really solid. There weren’t a lot of wasted possessions. There was pace and purpose offensively and defensively, we talked about just staying with it. I think there was a consistency of play we’ve been asking for that was there.”

The Brooklyn bombardment continued in the fourth, stretching their lead to that season-high 38 points. While Durant and Irving both didn’t play in the quarter, Harden stayed in the contest with 6:14 left (125-90) and Nash let the rookies — Cam Thomas, David Duke Jr., Edwards and Sharpe — as well as Jevon Carter finish out the blowout win.

“You saw me there when we were taking the L down 20,” said Durant on sitting the fourth quarter. “It was good to get a win and be on the bench cheering the guys on as you’re winning the game. It’s been a rough five-six games for us but one of these games is good for the team just in general.”

And at the end of the day, the Nets won their first game against a top eight team after eight losses.

For Chicago, the Bulls backcourt put up some numbers, but for nought. DeMar DeRozan finished with 19 and Zach LaVine 22, but Lonzo Ball had an anemic nine points and seven assists while noted Nets killer Nikola Vucevic, who regularly puts up 20 points vs. Brooklyn was limited to 14 points and five rebounds.

The Film Room

Say it with us: Spacing. Freaking. Matters.

You could feel it the second the ball was tipped. Brooklyn’s floor spacing was in a different stratosphere. The paint was empty, the wings filled, the corners slotted with shooters that actually force rotations. Driving lanes were suddenly at Brooklyn’s ball handlers’ disposal. James Harden (probably) let out an excited little squeal when he first saw all that room to do his dastardly tricks.

Below, the Nets set up in some screen-the-screener action (something they’ve been running with more regularity as of late), with Day’Ron Sharpe setting a pindown screen for Kevin Durant, who then brushes a ball-screen for Kyrie Irving (thus, the “screen-the-screener” name). Durant repositions himself after faking the screen for Irving, catches the pass, and instantly attacks downhill.

This, of course, forces a help rotation from Lonzo Ball as the low man, which Durant expertly evades for the dunk. But, if Lonzo’s rotation had been a little sharper, KD would’ve had the available kick out to James Harden in the corner. Not too shabby of an option.

Here’s an example of what it looks like if the low man, Lonzo once again, doesn’t help over off of Harden. KD connects with rookie Day’Ron Sharpe for a quick strike drag screen pick-and-roll, and the rook glides freely to the rim for the oop when Lonzo is late with his help, likely holding onto Harden in the corner. For the first time all season, the Nets were putting the opponent in a pick-your-poison predicament.

Here, the Nets set up in double drag formation, with Kyrie Irving and Day’Ron Sharpe screening for Kevin Durant (fun stuff!). A kick to Kyrie Irving at the wing forces a light stunt from Lonzo Ball, a move that ultimately dooms Chicago, and Irving makes the extra pass to James Harden in the corner. All net.

When they’re whole, these Nets are a terror to deal with. A more casual viewer may assume that Brooklyn is led by its near-overabundance in star power. And while that may be true, the secret sauce in Brooklyn is and always will be...

Spacing.

Milestone Watch

So much to get through.

Kevin Durant had his 12th straight 25+ point game, tying the Nets record set last year by ... Kevin Durant.

James Harden’s line was the 10th time Harden has recorded at least five 3-pointers and 15 assists in a game, the most such games in NBA history. Harden’s total is double that of the next-closest player (Stephen Curry, 5) per Justin Kubatko.

The Nets outscored Chicago 39-19 in the third quarter, marking the biggest positive point differential for Brooklyn in any quarter this season.

The Nets are 15-1 this season in road games that weren’t the second game of a back-to-back.

Brooklyn’s 39 points in the third quarter tied a season-high for any quarter. The Nets reached 100 points through three quarters for the third time this season (also: December 25 at L.A. Lakers and two days later at L.A. Clippers).

Tonight was Patty Mills’ 11th game with 20+ points in 40 games played. His previous high was nine in the 2019-20 season when he played a full season of 66 games. Mills tallied 21 points (7-of-10 FG, 6-of-8 3FG).

Day’Ron Sharpe was the 16th Net to draw a start this season (franchise-record 19 Nets started a game last season).

And this: The Bulls are the first team in NBA history to win by 45+ points one day and then lose by 25+ points the next day. Chicago beat Detroit by 46 on Tuesday night.

Irving talks about his time at home

In the post-game media availability, Kyrie Irving was asked about how he spent his time while waiting for the Nets to relent on their vaccination ban.

“At the beginning of the season when everything first started, it was like drinking something you didn’t want to drink, man,” said Irving, seemingly drawing on a medicine analogy. “I didn’t want to accept it at first and I think I said it when I first came back — the day I talked to most of you guys ...

“I tried not to get too emotionally attached to it, because when I did, then it just felt like I had FOMO (fear of missing out), just that feeling of missing out every single day. Man, I just want to be with the guys, just want to be want to be with the guys, just want to be with the guys. Once I got over that, and we were able to communicate still, obviously being close to some of the guys on the team. I felt we just got closer. Now we’re dealing with it together. It’s just a situation.”

Irving did not say — nor was he asked — whether he considered getting vaccinated so he could get back to the team. Irving joked that he would love to go to a local bar in New Jersey to watch the Nets’ home games:

“If you only understood how many people support the Nets from my hometown and where I’m from, it’s a lot.”

He also told reporters that he spent a lot of time with his daughter and fiancée’ and spoke of how his father, Drederick, and the role he played while he was at home in West Orange, N.J.

“As two people that are bonded, beyond just father and son. Growing up without my mom, b-ball was something that connected us and rooted us. But as I’ve gotten older, he just knows that the human being who I am is far more important....”

Meanwhile, In post-game comments on ESPN, Adrian Wojnarowski said the Nets are optimistic about getting Irving back full-time, that either things could “evolve” with the virus or Irving could get vaccinated.

“I think ... as the months evolve between now and the All-Star break into the stretch run of the season and then into the playoffs that enough in the world could change where Kyrie Irving could become a full-time player again. I think that’s real optimism within that organization.”

Woj also mentioned the possibility that the Nets could in theory violate the city’s mandate and pay a “nominal fine,” but said as well that Joe Tsai “doesn’t have the stomach for that right now” noting Tsai’s support of the city’s vaccination effort.

On Thursday, however, Woj clarified his report on the possibility of the Nets paying fines to get Kyrie back at Barclays Center.

No comment yet from the Nets.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will host Oklahoma City Thursday at Barclays Center for the second game of a back-to-back. The game is scheduled to tip at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Steve Nash said it’s unlikely LaMarcus Aldridge (right foot soreness) will join the team in Oklahoma City Thursday night. The Nets head coach also said the team will see how everyone comes out tomorrow morning and make “a long-term decision” with player availabilities.

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