The Bulls took on the Ironman challenge in Brooklyn on Friday.
It was an impressive effort by a short-handed squad, but the Bulls expended considerable energy only to finish with a loss. Luol Deng and Taj Gibson played nearly every second and it wasn't enough as Brooklyn pulled out a 93-89 victory at the Barclays Center.
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The Bulls played without Kirk Hinrich (elbow), Carlos Boozer (hamstring) and Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis). It's possible none of those players will be back Saturday when the Bulls play in Atlanta.
Boozer should be back soon and Hinrich's condition is unknown. Noah's recurrence of plantar fasciitis, which plagued him three years ago, is cause for concern.
"It started about 10 days ago," Noah told reporters after the game, according to espn.com. "It's just been getting worse and worse and I just knew that I needed some rest. It's frustrating because I want to be out there but I wasn't able to go today."
Noah missed 18 games with foot problems in 2009-10 and was on a limited minute count when he did come back.
"I know it's hard to come back from, but I'm on it a lot earlier than I was last time," he said. "I think the difference was last time I just tried to keep fighting through it and keep fighting through it, and I'm just trying to be smart about it. I just know that if I would have kept playing on it, even just today, I would probably have been out for a lot longer."
With four starters out, including Derrick Rose, coach Tom Thibodeau didn't substitute much. Gibson, who grew up in Brooklyn, played all 48 minutes. Deng came out for three seconds at the end of the third quarter.
Veteran center Nazr Mohammed started and played the first eight minutes of the game, then never returned, as Thibodeau used Gibson at center, with either Deng or Jimmy Butler at power forward. Nate Robinson and Butler each logged more than 40 minutes.
Here were some signs of tired legs: The Bulls made just 1 of 14 shots from 3-point range, managed 4 fastbreak points and were outrebounded 40-29.
Deng and Belinelli led the Bulls with 18 points each. Gibson had 16 points and 9 rebounds, while Robinson finished with 12 points and 11 assists.
"This is good for our team," Gibson said. "It's all for the better come playoff time when we get everybody back and we're fully healthy, we feel like we've got a shot of winning the East."
The circumstances seemed overwhelming early, especially when the Nets jumped out to a 24-14 lead after one quarter. The Bulls (28-18) chipped away, though, with Belinelli scoring 9 points in the second quarter and Gibson adding 8. Deng's 3-point basket -- the only one by the Bulls all night -- gave the visitors a 42-41 edge at halftime.
The Bulls led 67-63 heading into the fourth. That's when Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo decided to test the Bulls' stamina by riding a couple of reserves down the stretch.
Shooting guard Marshon Brooks scored 9 of Brooklyn's 11 points to open the fourth quarter, then ex-Bulls guard C.J. Watston canned a 3-pointer to put the Nets ahead 77-73. After the Bulls fell behind by as many as 7, Robinson's bucket cut the deficit to 83-80 with 2:57 left and they had a chance to get closer, but Robinson lost the ball out of bounds. Joe Johnson answered with a 3-pointer than stretched the lead to 6.
A Gibson basket and pair of Robinson free throws made it 86-84 with 1:23 remaining. Needing a defensive stop, the Bulls gave up a basket and 3-point play to Andray Blatche with 1:06 on the clock.