The Chicago Bulls took a 2-1 lead over the Brooklyn Nets and can take firm command of their series with a win in Game 4 Saturday afternoon at the United Center.
The Bulls prevailed 79-76 on Thursday in the Windy City. In both of Chicago's wins this series, defense has been the key, or, to be fair, poor offense has been the key.
The Nets only shot 35 percent from the field in Monday's Game 2 loss at home. On Thursday, Brooklyn built a 12-point lead in the first quarter, then went ice cold from the field. The Nets missed 15 straight shots and the Bulls moved ahead by eight at the half.
The Bulls' lead ballooned to 17 in the fourth and Brooklyn clawed back, but Chicago held on for the win.
In Game 3, the Nets shot 34.6 percent from the field and the poor shooting better improve quickly.
"The Bulls are playing good defense," said Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo. "They are loading up on our guys who are capable of scoring. We are not shooting a three well at all. Not just the contested ones, but the open ones. And we did a poor job finishing in the paint. You can't win if you are struggling inside like we are struggling inside until the fourth quarter. Most of the stuff inside is because they are playing very good defense. It's been very difficult for us to finish; we have been struggling inside and we can't win if you're not making shots in the paint.
"We're down 2-1 in the series, so we have to win Saturday and take it back to Brooklyn."
The Nets are more than capable of winning on the road. They finished 23-18 on the road, which tied for the second-best road mark in the Eastern Conference.
In Game 3, Brook Lopez led the way for Brooklyn with 22 points. Deron Williams had 18 and Joe Johnson, who was a game-time decision due to plantar fascitis, scored 15 in almost 41 minutes of action.
Williams has shot 6-for-23 in the last two games.
Gerald Wallace has scored seven points combined in the last two games and Reggie Evans, the other starting forward, has totaled four in the two losses. Carlesimo could go to MarShon Brooks more often for offense.
"We've got to look at tape and be ready for that," acknowledged Chicago's Luol Deng. "They could be going small for more scoring. Brooks played more minutes. We'll have to be prepared."
The Bulls were led by Carlos Boozer on Thursday. He scored 22 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. Deng also had a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
With the Nets struggling from the field, the Bulls haven't lit up the scoreboard. Chicago shot 39.7 percent from the field in Game 3 and only 20 percent from long range.
But the Bulls are making due with what they have available. Former MVP Derrick Rose is still not playing and Joakim Noah, much like Brooklyn's Johnson, is battling a case of plantar fascitis.
"I can't jump off my right foot," said Noah. "I haven't played in a long time either, so I just keep working on my game as much I can without irritating it. It's complicated. But I'm happy we won and now it's on me to play better."
Game 5 is scheduled for Monday in Brooklyn.