NEW YORK — The Bulls’ playoff opener Saturday night was pre-empted by an episode of “Smackdown.”
They were flattened in Flatbush and were never the slightest bit competitive against a Brooklyn Nets team determined to reverse its 1-3 record against the Bulls in the regular season.
Brook Lopez and Deron Williams led the Nets to a 60-35 halftime lead, and the Bulls didn’t provide the slightest hint of a comeback. The final result was a 106-89 loss at the Barclays Center and a 1-0 lead for Brooklyn in this first-round playoff series.
“They hit us with a haymaker, got us back on our heels,” Bulls coach Tim Thibodeau said.
“The game was over in the first half,” added Carlos Boozer, who led the Bulls with 25 points.
“We got smacked in the face, and it’s on us to bounce back,” said Joakim Noah, a surprise starter after experiencing an sudden improvement in his plantar fasciitis.
For the most part, this game defied analysis.
The Bulls were awful in every phase of the game. They let Lopez (21 points) get going early and couldn’t stay in front of Williams (22 points). Even backup point guard C.J. Watson, a Bull the past two seasons, got a few kicks in, scoring 14 points.
“I’ve been watching them closely for a while now and they’ve been playing at a very, very high level,” Thibodeau said. “They start fast every game. They’ve gotten teams down big early in the first half.
“So we have to be ready. They have a lot of guys that are rolling right now. Our defense has to be tied together. Our offense has to be tied together. You can’t ease into a playoff game. Your intensity level has to be great from the start.”
If there’s one thing to point to, it’s probably the Bulls’ perpetually changing lineup. Thibodeau pointed it out himself by saying he thought the Bulls were playing their best basketball of the season during a stretch late in March.
But when Luol Deng went out for two games with a sore hip, it all fell apart. The Bulls came up with some good performances after that, but it was never consistent, just like the players in the rotation. Noah returned to the starting lineup Saturday for just the second time since March 21.
“The thing is, you can use that as an excuse, just as you can when you lose guys,” Thibodeau said. “How quickly can you adapt to those changes? We have to respond a lot better than we did today.
“Obviously, it’s good to have Jo back and it’s good to have depth. But the question becomes, ‘How sharp are we going to be?’ And we’ve got to get that corrected quickly.”
The Bulls trailed 25-14 after 12 minutes, then the second quarter was astonishing. The Nets scored 35 points while hitting 16 of 20 shots from the field, a robust 80 percent. Once Lopez got off to the fast start, it just opened everything up on the perimeter.
There were a few bright spots on offense. Boozer hit 12 of 20 shots from the field. Nate Robinson provided his usual spark with 17 points in 20 minutes. Jimmy Butler was decent and Marco Belinelli came on late.
On the other side, Luol Deng hit just 3 of 11 shots for 6 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in 38 minutes of action.
“Personally, I thought early in the game, I looked to set everyone up,” Deng said. “The game kind of got out of hand and we started rushing shots. It affects all of us when we start playing that way.
“We just have to do a better job of making sure it’s a closer game and I feel we’ll shoot the ball a lot better.”
Most of the Bulls were thinking positive in the locker room. No matter how ugly and lopsided this game was, it counts as 1 win for the Nets.
“I feel like it’s more us, the way we played,” Noah said. “We played so poorly. We didn’t execute. The playoffs are all about executing. We didn’t execute the defensive game plan. We didn’t execute the offensive game plan. We’ll watch film tomorrow and we’ll definitely come out with a better effort on Monday. Yeah, I’m disappointed.”
Added Boozer, “We’ve got a lot of guys who have been here before. This was Game 1. We’ll be ready for Game 2.”
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