On Wednesday, the Bulls opened the game like a team that can contend with the best, jumping out to an early lead against the Nets.
The question was, could they sustain that effort for four quarters?
They got in passing lanes and were disruptive defensively. They shot the ball well, converting 57.1% from three-point range and 75% from the field in the first quarter. They controlled the glass better than they have of late, giving up only two offensive rebounds in the first half.
The result? A 10-point lead over the second-best team in the NBA at the half.
If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, keep waiting because it never did. Aside from the opening minute, coach Billy Donovan’s team never trailed in its 121-112 victory that snapped Brooklyn’s 12-game winning streak.
“The last game left a bad taste in our mouths,” forward Patrick Williams said. “So we were trying to right those wrongs.”
Despite the Nets’ best attempt at a comeback — they cut the deficit to three in the last 10 minutes — the Bulls held on. They came up with big stops and even bigger rebounds. They held the Nets to five second-chance points.
Williams had one of his best games of the season, scoring 12 points early in the first quarter. Earlier in the day, he talked about his experiences against Kevin Durant.
“That’s why I’m here, to go against the best and test myself against the best,” Williams said.
If Wednesday’s test had been graded, Williams would’ve passed with a solid B. The only knock came on the defensive end, but he was tasked with defending Durant.
Williams was held scoreless in the second quarter, but he responded in the second half and had a season-high 22 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
Defensively, he had no answer for Durant. No one on the Bulls did. By the half, Durant already had nearly hit his 29.6 scoring average with 28 points. He finished with 44 points and five assists.
“Patrick’s eager to get better,” Donovan said. “Being around him, he’s searching for ways to improve. Playing against Durant tonight, having to have so much of his focus and trying to, at least, make it difficult on him and to be aggressive offensively, that’s playing both ends of the floor. We need him to play both ends of the floor.”
Kyrie Irving struggled in the Nets’ first game against the Bulls this season, finishing with only four points, but he had 25 points and eight assists this time.
Donovan stressed how inexcusable it was for his team to send the Cavaliers to the free-throw line 25 times in Monday’s overtime loss on the road. Against the Nets, they weren’t much better, sending them to the line 21 times.
But while the Bulls failed to keep the Nets off the line, they took 29 trips of their own and converted 27.
Up next, the Bulls face the 76ers on Friday on the road. If the Bulls have proved anything this season, it’s that they’re capable of rising to beat the best in the league.
Note: Alex Caruso left the game after only three minutes with a sprained right ankle after landing on Irving’s foot while shooting. He did not return. Donovan had no update after the game.