Following a crucial 90-82 win in Game 2, the Chicago Bulls were seeking to post their second straight victory when they hosted the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 at the United Center on Thursday, April 25.
Early on, the Nets played like the team that dominated the Bulls in the series opener, jumping out to a 17-5 lead, while connecting on five of their first eight shot attempts.
However, from that point on, the Bulls clamped down defensively, limiting the Nets to just 35 points in the second and third quarters to take a 65-52 lead heading into the fourth.
Leading 75-64 with five minutes left in regulation, a victory for the home team appeared to be a foregone conclusion but Brooklyn refused to go away quietly.
Thanks to a late run, the Nets managed to close to within 79-76 with a chance to send the game into overtime. Fortunately for the Bulls, C.J. Watson missed an open three-pointer from the right pocket, enabling Chicago to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Here is a quick look at the players who fueled the Bulls’ charge.
Carlos Boozer was a constant thorn to the Nets defense as he poured in 22 points to go along with 16 rebounds and three assists.
In addition to that, the Bulls forward played much better defense on the pick-and-roll than what most fans are used to seeing.
There is no one on the Nets’ roster who can guard Boozer, and it was a positive to see him looking for his shot with great frequency.
Luol Deng had another solid outing for the Bulls, scoring 21 points, while pulling down 10 rebounds and handing out three assists as well.
Although Deng did not have a great shooting night, connecting on just 9-of-23 from the field, his 12 points in the third quarter helped the Bulls extend their lead to 16 points, enabling them to take control of the game.
Deng also played well defensively, limiting Gerald Wallace to just five points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Kirk Hinrich made life difficult for Deron Williams in Game 2, limiting him to just eight points on 1-for-9 shooting, and he was back at it again in Game 3.
Although Williams did get off to a hot start, scoring eight points in the opening quarter, Hinrich made the necessary adjustments and as a result, Williams only tallied 10 points the remainder of the game and connected on just five of his 14 shot attempts.
In addition to that, Hinrich also provided the Bulls with some offense, scoring 12 points to go along with two assists.
A lot of Bulls fans questioned why the organization acquired Hinrich during the offseason and those whispers only grew louder when he battled through multiple injuries during the course of the year.
However, games like this show how valuable he is to the team. He may not always give you big numbers, but he runs the offense effectively and he has proven over the last two games that he can defend one of the best point guards in the league.
In the final analysis, this was a huge win for the Bulls. The only downside is they almost let this one slip through their grasps despite playing so well defensively.
In fact, Chicago only recorded two free throws in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. In order to win Game 4, the Bulls will need to do a much better job of closing out their opponent rather than stumbling to the finish line.