The Chicago Bulls had every excuse to wave the white flag on Friday night.
Facing a tough Brooklyn Nets team inside the Barclays Center, coach Tom Thibodeau's team was forced to make do without three starters: Kirk Hinrich (elbow), Carlos Boozer (hamstring) and Joakim Noah (foot).
But that's not the way these Bulls operate.
Although they ultimately came out on the wrong side of a 93-89 game, the team scratched and clawed all night.
Chicago had no business even being in this game.
Besides the obvious limitations on Thibodeau's rotation, the Bulls didn't shoot or rebound well. The Nets outshot the Bulls from the field (52 to 44 percent) and from the perimeter (46 to seven). Brooklyn pounded them on the glass, finishing with a 40-29 edge in rebounds.
But the Bulls limited their mistakes (13 turnovers), shared the basketball (23 assists on 34 field goals) and nearly made the Nets pay for their struggles at the line. Chicago shot 20-of-22 from the charity stripe, while Brooklyn made just 10 of its 20 foul shots.
With Kirk Hinrich missing in action, Nate Robinson's adept scoring ability took a backseat to his distributing and defending responsibilities.
He played relatively well in both aspects.
He attacked the Nets' interior, then found open teammates when the defenses collapsed. Not known as a great setup man, his 11 assists seem to jump off the stat sheet.
But his limitations as the primary ball-handler were evident in crucial moments. As the clock wound down, Robinson began forcing passes that weren't there. Not all of them resulted in turnovers, but he often let the recipients with no real chance to make a play.
He's never going to be regarded for his selective shot attempts, but he did fight for good looks throughout the contest. Unfortunately for the Bulls, he just had one of those shooting nights (4-of-16), missing several apparent gimmies.
Defensively, he harassed Deron Williams. He denied driving lanes, keeping Williams (11 points, 4-of-12 from the field) from ever finding his rhythm.
Richard Hamilton played fewer than 18 minutes but gave Chicago a go-to scoring option when he was on the floor.
Running through a series of screens, Hamilton put his defender to work. When shots presented themselves, he converted them at an efficient rate (4-of-5, nine points). When those screens didn't create enough space, Hamilton didn't force shots.
But without a real offensive threat coming from the ball-handler or the screener, Brooklyn was able to limit the spacing Hamilton created.
While he could still emerge as a viable running mate when Derrick Rose returns to action, Tom Thibodeau was forced to side with either a better shooter (Marco Belinelli) or a better slasher and defender (Jimmy Butler).
It's hard to imagine Luol Deng taking on more responsibility, considering he entered the night averaging 39.6 minutes per game on the season.
But given the rash of injuries that has overtaken the roster, Deng not only was dealt an even heavier workload (he got all of four seconds of rest on the night), but also an imposing matchup with Gerald Wallace in the frontcourt.
With Wallace looming on the defensive end, Deng struggled to find his rhythm. He had his best offensive output in the second quarter (3-of-6), but couldn't find the same energy down the stretch.
He finished the night with 18 points, but he needed 18 shots to hit that mark. Only five of those points came after intermission.
Without more players demanding defensive attention, Brooklyn appeared set on limiting Deng's chances.
Taj Gibson wasn't simply the main interior option for Chicago; he was the only option.
And he did everything he could to minimize the obvious mismatches Brooklyn's physical frontcourt presented.
He didn't hide his explosiveness, powering through his finishes near the basket. He moved well without the basketball, sneaking behind the defense when Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson found driving lanes or Hamilton had open looks.
He couldn't compensate for the losses of both Noah and Boozer, but willed his way to 16 points and nine rebounds.
Defensively, he shouldered a mighty load, as he was tasked with defending the 7', 265-pound Brook Lopez in Thibodeau's small-ball attack. While Lopez finished the night with 20 points, Gibson made him work for those buckets.
But the heaviest possible workload (he played all 48 minutes) had some glaring effects late in the game. With Lopez watching from the sideline, Andray Blatche bullied his way to some point-blank chances. Blatche scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't the perfect game by any stretch, but it was a commendable effort nevertheless.
Given the Nets' imposing frontcourt, Nazr Mohammed figured to be in line for a heavy workload.
Early on, it became apparent that he would not be a factor.
The Bulls' best chance to steal a road win came by way of speeding up their attack with an undersized lineup. And that meant incredibly limited involvement for Mohammed, particularly considering the absences of Noah and Boozer.
Mohammed logged fewer than eight minutes, finishing the night with four points and one rebound.
Against another opponent, this would have been a tough matchup for the second-teamers.
For three quarters, the Bulls' two-man reserve squad of Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler gave Tom Thibodeau an unexpected advantage.
Butler played his typical suffocating defense, limiting driving lanes and closing out on shooters. He was a pesky presence in the passing lanes, disrupting Brooklyn's offensive flow with several deflections. His deflection of Gerald Wallace's inbounds pass in the final 20 seconds gave Deng a layup and the Bulls just a two-point deficit.
Butler's activity extended to all areas of the court. He crashed the glass with reckless abandon, buying the Bulls extra possessions with his four offensive rebounds.
Through smart cutting and some generous teammates, he gave the Bulls a presence near the basket. Three of his five field goals came in the paint.
Belinelli gave Thibodeau another option on offense (18 points) along with another playmaking option. He was aggressive with his dribble, tying his second-highest free-throw attempts on the season (nine). That aggressiveness bit him a few times (three turnovers), but he did find teammates at the end of some of those penetrations (four assists).
With Nate Robinson struggling and Richard Hamilton spending more time observing than participating, Belinelli was one of the only Chicago players creating space. He only attempted three threes (and missed all of them), but converted all three of his mid-range looks.