NEW YORK — In Game 1 of their best-of-seven series with the Chicago Bulls, the Nets dominated the paint with 56 points en route to a critical victory.
In Game 2, the Bulls responded, imposing their will on the Nets and forcing Brook Lopez out of the paint over the game’s first 24 minutes and the team away from him completely in the second half.
The Bulls limited the Nets to 30 points in the paint of Monday night’s Game 2 and now carry a split of the first two games of the series after securing a 90-82 win at Barclays Center.
Though Lopez shot 6-for-9 and scored 14 points in Monday’s first half, most of his points came off of deep jumpshots.
After the game, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau specifically mentioned those long looks.
"He made some shots,” Thibodeau said. “You have to decide what you are willing to live with.”
Apparently, those were.
In the second half, Lopez was just 1-for-5 from the field and his touches, both in the paint and on the perimeter, were limited.
That was something I noticed and asked P.J. Carlesimo about Lopez only getting five shot attempts in the second half as opposed to nine in the first.
He credited the Thibodeau’s defensive adjuments.
“I think they just tightened their defense up a little bit,” he said. “We had shots, they didn’t go in,” he said with a nonchalant shrug.
For the Bulls, All-Star Joakim Noah managed to play just 14 minuts on Saturday, but played nearly twice as many minutes in Game 2.
He did a good job of defending Lopez, denying him the ball, battling him for position and even coming up with a critical block on Lopez in the game’s final minute.
Lopez recognized that, as well.
“[Noah] had energy,” Lopez said afterward. “And he played more this game.”
Noah, who missed 12 games since March 21, pointed to rust as a reason for his ineffectiveness in Game 1.
"I hadn't played for like a month before the playoffs," Noah told the media. “I’m just trying to get my wind and timing back,” he added.
Not to be overlooked is the contribution of backup center Nazr Mohammed, who also did a good job defending Lopez and even scoring eight points on the offensive end.
“Nazr gave us great effort, in 17 minutes he was terrific and we needed it,” Noah said of his teammate. “It’s something that shouldn’t go unnoticed. He works very hard even when he isn’t playing.”
Now, after two games, the Bulls have stolen home court advantage.
From this point, three of the final five games of the series will be played in Chicago.
Going into Game 3, an interesting dichotomy exists.
The Nets are an above average road team and the Bulls are a below average home team. The Nets were 23-18 on the road this season, while, at home, the Bull were just one game better at 24-17.
It stands to reason that The Nets are capable of stealing one in the Windy City, but if that is to be the case, they are going to have to return to the dominance in the paint that sparked them in Game 1, and that starts with Brook Lopez.