NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — When the game got tight in the fourth quarter, Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls turned up their defensive pressure. And the streaking New Jersey Nets just couldn’t keep up.
Rose scored 21 points and the Bulls extended their longest winning streak in six years to eight games by holding the Nets to a season-low point total in an 84-73 victory Thursday night.
“That’s what we’ve been doing the whole year, playing defense,” said Rose, who came up with a big steal and a layup in the closing minutes. “If our offense isn’t going, and that rarely happens, we rely on our defense. That’s what we did tonight, make it tough on them. At first, they were getting everything they wanted. Then we just closed down the paint and rebounded the ball.”
Chicago, which came into the game with the NBA’s second-best defense allowing an average of 91 points, held the Nets to 35 percent shooting (29 of 83), including a 3-for-19 night from 3-point range.
Rose also hounded Deron Williams on defense. Williams had been the catalyst of New Jersey’s five-game winning streak, but he only managed five points on 1-of-12 shooting to go along with 11 assists.
Williams has battled a wrist injury since being traded from Utah to New Jersey before the trading deadline, and he admitted it bothered him. But he said new coach Tom Thibodeau has turned the Bulls into a great defensive team.
“We could have played a lot better and shot a lot better, 35 percent from the field is tough to win,” Williams said. “But they’re a good defensive team. That’s what they pride themselves on.”
The Bulls (49-18) also are resilient. They blew a 14-point third-quarter lead before turning away the Nets after they tied it three times in the final 5:50.
Chicago’s eight-game winning streak is its longest since it won nine in a row between mid-March and early April 2005. This win gave the Bulls a half-game lead over idle Boston in the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“We know we still have a long way to go,” said Luol Deng, who scored 19 points, including a go-ahead jumper with 3:58 to play. “We’ve got a great team. We’ve got guys who come off the bench and do a good job of carrying us. We’re a deep team and we just have to keep on playing.”
Kyle Korver had seven of his 12 points in the final quarter and rookie reserve Omer Asik had 11 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
“We just want to take it step by step,” Thibodeau said. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We just want to concentrate on our improvement. If we do the right things every day, the results will take care of themselves.”
Brook Lopez scored 22 points for New Jersey, and Kris Humphries added 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Lopez made two free throws with 4:06 to go to tie the game. Deng then came off a screen and hit a jumper to put the Bulls ahead for good. After the teams exchanged empty possessions, Rose stole a cross-court pass by Williams and scored on a drive to push the lead to 73-69 with 3:18 remaining.
Anthony Morrow and Sasha Vujacic missed jumpers for New Jersey and Chicago took advantage. Korver hit a free throw after the Nets were called for an illegal defense and Joakim Noah, who was returning to the lineup after missing a game with flulike symptoms, went over Humphries for a rebound and scored for a 76-69 lead.
After Vujacic scored on a goaltending call against Rose, Korver, who turned 30 on Thursday, hit a 3-pointer and Kurt Thomas converted a layup to put the game away.
“We just couldn’t score points tonight,” Humphries said. “You look at the stat sheet and we shots in the 30s. We held them to a good amount of points and we just needed to turn it up offensively, but we weren’t able to do that.”
Limited to 50 points in the first three quarters and only down by 10, the Nets made a run in the opening four minutes of the fourth, closing to 62-59 on a 3-pointer by Vujacic.
The Bulls called timeout and quickly got Rose back in the lineup. The Nets kept it up but couldn’t overcome Chicago, which won the rebounding battle 50-46.
NOTES: Williams had dinner with his former Jazz teammate Korver on Wednesday. … Bulls F Carlos Boozer has missed four straight games with a sprained ankle. … The Bulls lead the season series 2-1. … Williams hit a runner at the end of the first quarter. It was originally ruled good but overturned after a videotape review. … The Bulls wore their St. Patrick’s Day green uniforms.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)