Chalk it up to a bad shooting day.
The Nets laid a dud on Easter Sunday, and by the time they got it going, it was too little, too late. Without James Harden, the Nets dug themselves into a double-digit hole and could not climb out quick enough.
Time ran out, and the Bulls made enough shots to keep the surging Nets at bay. Brooklyn lost, 115-107, and snapped Chicago’s six-game losing streak.
Probably the most important moment occurred midway through the fourth quarter, when reserve combo guard Tyler Johnson’s right knee buckled beneath him. It was a non-contact injury that left Johnson unable to put weight on his right leg. He had to be helped off the floor with what the Nets are calling a “right knee strain,” a vague diagnosis that will become more clear with an MRI.
“We’ll see. All we can do is wait for the scan and then decide,” head coach Steve Nash said. “But he’s been great and we all really enjoy coaching and watching him compete every night, so hopefully it’s not bad, but we’ll see what happens after the scan.”
The severity of Johnson’s injury could prove critical for a Nets team already in a war of attrition. Johnson gives the Nets depth in the backcourt as another capable ball-handler and play-maker, a guard who could easily play a bigger role on a different team.
Landry Shamet also might need an MRI after aggravating the right ankle injury that kept him out for five games last week. Shamet slightly twisted his ankle in the fourth quarter and tried to shake off what was a noticeable limp. Nash pulled the plug on Shamet’s night shortly after. He had 13 points off the bench against the Bulls and 17 points in his first game back from injury against the Hornets on Thursday.
The Nets came out strong and took a 28-25 lead after the first quarter, but the Bulls seized momentum shortly after. LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, doesn’t matter: The Nets’ paint was Easter lunch for a Bulls team that exploited one of Brooklyn’s biggest weaknesses. And it was a day to forget on the other end.
“We had a hard time spacing them out because we were a little bogged down. We were playing in tight spaces instead of making them guard in big spaces. Just wasn’t a great offensive performance from us tonight obviously,” said Nash. “Some of it’s shot-making, but I think more of it was just playing at that relentless pace. And I don’t mean up and down, I mean just when we get in the halfcourt making quick decisions, having that little burst of interaction and then continuing to play if the first action doesn’t create anything for us.”
A ghost from Brooklyn’s past haunted the Nets in Chicago. They had no answer for Nikola Vucevic, the Magic All-Star and longtime Net killer recently traded to the Bulls, who put up 22 points and 13 rebounds on Sunday.
The Nets fell behind as many as 18 points and cut it to single digits down the stretch in the fourth quarter. That was when Zach LaVine (25 points) hit a dagger three after an offensive rebound to give the Bulls a 10-point lead with 1:22 to go in the third quarter.
The Nets have surrendered the No. 1 seed to the Philadelphia 76ers, who welcomed MVP candidate and All-Star big man Joel Embiid back from his hyperextended knee injury on Saturday. Brooklyn now must recover quickly to host the Knicks at Barclays Center on Monday.