CHICAGO — Every play near the basket looked like a traffic accident. There were long scoreless stretches. Shooting from outside was a dicey proposition.
It was ugly for everyone but the Chicago Bulls. This was their type of game.
Carlos Boozer had 22 points and 16 rebounds, Luol Deng added 21 points and 10 boards, and the Bulls held off the Brooklyn Nets 79-76 in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Thursday night.
The Bulls had no field goals and two foul shots in the final 5:46 of the game, but still managed to beat the Nets for the second time in the postseason. They will try to grab a 3-1 lead when the series resumes in a quick turnaround Saturday afternoon.
Brooklyn shot 35 percent for the second straight game. Brook Lopez had 22 points and nine rebounds, and Deron Williams finished with 18 points on 5-for-14 shooting.
Deng led the way as Chicago grabbed control in the third quarter for the second consecutive game. The All-Star forward scored 12 points in the first 4 minutes of the period, seemingly scoring at will against Gerald Wallace as the Bulls turned a seven-point halftime advantage into a 16-point lead.
Deng connected on four long jumpers before he drove inside for a three-point play off a foul on Wallace. A free throw by Boozer made it 54-38 with 7:36 remaining.
Brooklyn made one last charge when Lopez had eight points in a 10-2 spurt that trimmed Chicago’s lead to 77-74 with 14.4 seconds left. But Nate Robinson and Joakim Noah each hit a free throw and former Bulls guard C.J. Watson missed a 3 at the buzzer.
Playing on a bad left foot, Joe Johnson had 15 points for Brooklyn, while Noah’s foul shot was his only point of the game while dealing with his own right foot injury.
The Nets cruised to an easy victory in the playoff opener and flopped in Game 2, when they shot 35 percent and managed only 11 points in the third period of a 90-82 loss on Monday night that handed home-court advantage to the Bulls. There was no word on Johnson until the starting lineups came out right before Game 3, but coach P.J. Carlesimo was more focused on Brooklyn playing with more aggression and getting off to a fast start than whether the guard was going to be able to play.
That emphasis worked at the beginning, but it quickly fell apart when the Nets went cold again on offense and the Bulls started to find their rhythm on both ends of the court.
Williams had eight quick points, matching his total from all of Game 2 and helping Brooklyn to a 17-5 lead with 6:25 left in the first quarter. The Nets then went scoreless for the next 6½ minutes and missed 25 of 26 shots overall while the Bulls surged into the lead.
Hinrich made a layup, Marco Belinelli hit two foul shots and Boozer made a jumper to close out a 28-4 blitz that made it 33-21 with 5 minutes left in the half. But the biggest highlight was a pick and roll with Robinson and Taj Gibson, who finished it off with a poster-worthy dunk over Kris Humphries.