It looked like a going-through-the-motions kind of game for the Bulls in the first half, then things flipped midway through the third quarter. Just like that, the Bulls pulled off one of their more impressive victories of the season.
NEW YORK — It isn’t often that Bulls guard Matt Thomas gets some playing time, let alone being handed minutes against an Eastern Conference powerhouse such as the Nets.
But that’s where the seldom-used shooting guard found himself at the end of the game between the teams Nov. 8, getting a few minutes in mop-up time after the Bulls completely dominated the Nets at the United Center.
The rematch Saturday in Brooklyn wouldn’t offer Thomas such an opportunity.
What it did offer, however, was another Bulls victory against the Nets and, even more impressive, against a team that seemingly had evolved into the team to beat in the conference.
Guess who just got beat again?
Thanks to more fourth-quarter heroics from forward DeMar DeRozan, as well as a clutch three-pointer from guard Lonzo Ball with 16.9 seconds left, the Bulls came back to beat the Nets 111-107 and improve to 16-8 on the season.
‘‘They’ve obviously had some different things going on with their team,’’ Bulls coach Billy Donovan said of the Nets. ‘‘Some of the lineups and rotations are different than they were the first time we played them. Their team has evolved, and I give them a lot of credit. From the start of the season until now, the evolution of their team, they continue to get better and improve.’’
So do the Bulls, however.
Zach LaVine finished with 31 points and DeRozan with 29, and the Bulls’ defense held Nets stars Kevin Durant and James Harden to 28 and 14 points, respectively.
Toss in some key stops in the fourth quarter and another energy-filled performance from rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu, and the two-game sweep of the Knicks and Nets in New York was complete.
‘‘I thought the way it looked to start the game was we got beat on the glass pretty handily [and] had some turnovers,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘It was one of those games where we weren’t doing enough against a high-caliber team. It looked like in every aspect of the game, Brooklyn had control. And they did.’’
Until late in the third quarter, that is. That’s when the Bulls went on a 10-2 run after being down 11 and served notice they weren’t going to go away.
‘‘For us, it was two different halves,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘We’re capable of being better. I give our guys a ton of credit. Coming out of halftime, we talked about the adjustments, and they came out and did it. I love the competitive spirit of these guys.’’
That spirit, however, seemed to be missing in action for most of the first half.
The Bulls had to feel pretty good about being within shouting distance of the Nets at halftime, especially considering all that went on leading up to the game and into the first quarter.
Forward Javonte Green was back in Chicago after testing positive for the coronavirus, which meant guard Alex Caruso — gimpy hamstring and all — was forced into the starting lineup in his place.
Then the Nets came out and made three three-pointers to start the game, Caruso’s hamstring lasted about eight minutes and the Bulls’ bench suddenly was called on to dig deeper.
Still, the Bulls’ deficit was only four points going into the locker room at halftime, with the Nets leading 56-52.
It felt as though the knockout punch was coming in the third, especially after guard Patty Mills made a shot to put the Nets ahead 71-60. But that’s when the Bulls run started.
‘‘We know it’s a game of runs,’’ said Dosunmu, who scored 11 points. ‘‘It’s about what team can overcome the runs, what team can stay together like a family.’’