The Brooklyn Nets kept going deeper down their bench to find a winning combination. The Chicago Bulls simply had nowhere to go.
Brook Lopez scored 20 points through three quarters, then the Nets turned to their bench to beat the short-handed Bulls 93-89 on Friday night.
With most of their best players in street clothes, the Bulls' normally sturdy defense allowed the Nets to make 11 of 18 shots in the fourth quarter. Nine of the baskets were by reserves.
"It's huge, especially when a lot of our starters didn't have it going tonight," Nets guard Deron Williams said. "It was good that those guys came in and stepped up for us. Without them, we don't win this game."
Andray Blatche scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter and MarShon Brooks had nine of his 13 as the reserves scored the Nets' first 20 points. A starter didn't score until Joe Johnson's 3-pointer gave Brooklyn an 86-80 lead with 2 minutes to play.
"MarShon and Blatche, man, carried us in that fourth quarter," Johnson said.
Johnson finished with 13 points for the Nets, who bounced back from a loss to Miami on Wednesday by beating another top Eastern Conference team.
Luol Deng scored 18 points and Taj Gibson had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who played without starters Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich while losing for just the third time in 11 games.
"This is good for our team. It's all for the better come playoff time when we get everybody back and we're fully healthy, we feel like we've got a shot of winning the East," Gibson said.
Nate Robinson had 12 points and 11 assists but shot just 4 of 16 in place of Hinrich, who returned to Chicago to get his right elbow examined. Marco Belinelli scored 18 points and Jimmy Butler had 12 off Chicago's bench.
Noah had an undisclosed foot injury, though felt it wouldn't be a long-term problem, and Boozer was bothered by a sore right hamstring.
"I know it's hard to come back from, but I'm on it a lot earlier than I was last time," said Noah, who missed 18 games with plantar fasciitis during the 2009-10 season. "I think the difference was last time I just tried to keep fighting through it and keep fighting through it, and I'm just trying to be smart about it. I just know that if I would have kept playing on it, even just today, I would probably have been out for a lot longer."
The Bulls have been without Derrick Rose all season and are as good as anyone at playing without a full deck. They had a lead into the early fourth quarter before perhaps running out of gas as the deeper Nets surged by them.
Brooks' jumper gave the Nets the lead for good at 74-73 with 7:39 left and former Bulls backup CJ Watson hit a 3-pointer before Blatche's basket made it 79-73 with 6:09 to go. Brooklyn stayed ahead from there, though Chicago got within two with 15 seconds left before Watson closed it out with two free throws.
Brooks has struggled to find consistent minutes this season. It didn't seem they would come Friday, with interim coach P.J. Carlesimo saying before the game that the Bulls were a bad matchup for the second-year guard.
"It felt great, it did," Brooks said. "I just try to stay ready and just be aggressive. I was out there in the fourth quarter, trying to make plays, man."
Even with Chicago's injuries, Carlesimo said going from the Heat on Wednesday to the Bulls on Friday was like "going for a root canal a couple of times in a week" because of how tough both teams make it to run an offense.
Notoriously cautious Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau termed Noah's ailment a "lower-body injury." Pressed further, Thibodeau simply said Noah was "nicked up."
The Bulls almost got by without the All-Star while playing with just eight players but had their two-game winning streak snapped.
The Nets jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter, but Chicago battled back to take a 42-39 lead on Deng's 3-pointer with 51 seconds left in the first half, and the Bulls led by one at the break.
Williams had 11 points for the Nets. He limped off with an apparent ankle injury late in the half, but was back to start the third quarter. Gerald Wallace finished with 13 rebounds, including a tip-in with 32 seconds left that represented the other fourth-quarter basket by a starter.
Notes: The Nets honored the 1 millionth guest to attend Barclays Center during a first-half timeout. Joined on the court by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Barclays Center majority owner and developer Bruce Ratner, Allison Barlow of Brooklyn was awarded two free tickets for all Barclays events for a year. The $1 billion arena has been open 126 days, and Friday's game was its 86th ticketed event. They also celebrated the birthday of Mr. Whammy, the elderly fan who sits in the front row behind the basket and heckles opposing free throw shooters. He couldn't do much to faze the Bulls, who went 20 of 22 (91 percent) at the line.