In a battle between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets took down the Chicago Bulls 138-112 at the United Center on Wednesday. Kevin Durant led the way with 27 points and nine assists as Brooklyn improved to 26-14.
James Harden added 25 points and 16 assists. Patty Mills had 21 points off the bench on 6-of-8 shooting from three-point range. Rookie center Day'Ron Sharpe had 20 points. The Nets outscored Chicago 39-19 in the third quarter.
Playing in his third game of the season, Nets point guard Kyrie Irving had just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting. He was questionable for the game due to an ankle injury. Irving is only able to play in road games for Brooklyn because he is unvaccinated and can't play at home under New York City's vaccine mandates.
With the victory, the Nets now trail the Bulls by 1.5 games for first place in the East. It's Brooklyn's first win of the year against a top-four team in either conference.
The Bulls fell to 27-12 after their second loss in the last three games. Zach LaVine led the team with 22 points, and DeMar DeRozan added 19.
F Kevin Durant, BKN: 27 points, 9 rebounds
G James Harden, BKN: 25 points, 7 rebounds, 16 assists
G Patty Mills, BKN: 21 points (off bench); 6-of-8 3-pt FG
C Day'Ron Sharpe, BKN: 20 points (10-of-14 FG), 7 rebounds
G Kyrie Irving, BKN: 9 points
G Zach LaVine, CHI: 22 points
G DeMar DeRozan, CHI: 19 points
Harden Finding His Stride for Brooklyn
Harden was the engine that made the Nets go on Wednesday. As the team's primary initiator of the offense, he did an excellent job with his decision-making.
Harden looked like the MVP-caliber player he's proven himself to be as he served as both a scorer and facilitator for Brooklyn.
Behind the play of Harden, the Nets were able to get high-percentage shots. Brooklyn shot 50 percent from the field in the first half.
Harden continued to propel Brooklyn's offense in the second half. He got himself going from three-point range and did a great job with his distributing. When the Bulls tied the game at 71, the Nets went on a 30-8 run to end the third quarter to blow the game open.
Durant has been a constant for the Nets all season, so it's almost a given that he will deliver on a nightly basis. Harden had a slow start to the season as he worked his way back from a hamstring injury, but it seems like he's finally rounding back into form. It was his second straight game with at least 25 points and 10 assists. He also played a clean game with just two turnovers.
If Harden can continue to make the right decisions as Brooklyn's primary ball-handler, the Nets will be able to push for an NBA Finals appearance this season. Brooklyn made a statement with Wednesday's win and should be regarded as the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Duo of DeRozan and LaVine Not Enough for Chicago
The Bulls have one of the most potent tandems in the league in LaVine and DeRozan. Early on, they did enough to keep the game close for Chicago.
Chicago Bulls @chicagobulls
Zach’s stepback game stays pretty.<a href="https://twitter.com/ZachLaVine?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZachLaVine</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAAllStar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAAllStar</a> <a href="https://t.co/o65v81qJvZ">pic.twitter.com/o65v81qJvZ</a>
But in the second half, Brooklyn put the clamps on LaVine and DeRozan and Chicago's offense came to a halt. The Bulls shot 30.4 percent from the field in the third quarter, hitting just one of their nine three-point attempts.
Once the game got out of hand, Chicago started to get outworked and out-hustled by the Nets all over the floor. The normally strong Bulls defense had no answers for Brooklyn's star players.
Besides LaVine and DeRozan, Coby White (16 points) and Nikola Vucevic (14) were the only other players to score in double figures for Chicago.
Wednesday's game is a stark contrast to the Bulls team we've been used to seeing this season. They had the chance to make a statement against a team considered the favorite in the Eastern Conference but went cold in the second half. It's the type of game that Chicago will have to just put in their rearview and move forward if they hope to remain among the top contenders in the league.
The Nets have a quick turnaround and will host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. The Bulls will welcome the Golden State Warriors to town on Friday.