Bulls beat Nets to qualify for the playoffs

By Sam Smith

Call them the playoff Bulls.

Now starts that wonderful second season. And the Bulls get to play.

It came down to Game 82, and the Bulls Wednesday finished it off with a 112-73 victory over the Brooklyn Nets to qualify for the playoffs. The Bulls finished the regular season 41-41.

The Bulls will open the playoffs this weekend in Boston. The teams split the season series 2-2 with the Bulls winning opening night in Chicago and the Celtics delivering the Bulls perhaps their most embarrassing defeat of the season March 12 in the last game they played, a 100-80 domination in which the Bulls trailed by 20 at halftime. There also was a last second winner by Jimmy Butler just before All-Star break on a foul call the Celtics contested.

The Bulls have never defeated the Celtics in a playoff series. The last time the teams met in the playoffs was the incredible, record setting 2009 seven-game series that saw four overtime games, including a triple overtime Game 6 and seven overtime periods in the series. Boston won at home in Game 7.

The Bulls struggled, stumbled and succeeded this season enough to wiggle into the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They won a tiebreaker over Miami to get in by virtue of a 2-1 record over the Heat this season. The Heat also finished 41-41.

The Bulls got 25 points from Jimmy Butler and a season high 21 points from Paul Zipser to lead end to end against an undermanned Brooklyn team. Rajon Rondo added 10 points, six rebounds and five assists. Robin Lopez had nine points and eight rebounds and Nikola Mirotic had nine points and nine rebounds. Zipser made five of seven threes. Bobby Portis had 12 points and nine rebounds.

Rondo was back in the starting lineup. But in an embarrassing curiosity, the Nets sat out for rest starters Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. Also out with rest/injury were Sean Kilpatrick, Quincy Acy, Trevor Booker and Joe Harris. The belief was the Nets want to trade several players after a last in the league finish and didn’t want to risk injury. The Bulls started cautious as well, three turnovers in their first six possessions as the teams were tied at 11 seven minutes into the game. But the Bulls with Zipser making a pair of threes tightened up, at least on defense, and led 27-13 after one quarter despite shooting 35 percent. The Nets shot 26 percent in the first quarter. The Bulls looked like they’d make it another Orlando-like domination by taking a quick 34-15 lead early in the second quarter. But with Spencer Dinwiddie again haunting the Bulls, the Nets sent the Bulls into a timeout with a 7-2 run to draw within 36-22. The Bulls responded out of the timeout with a Butler three on a Rondo rebound and a terrific Butler finish on a lob that became a reverse layup, almost Dr. J-esque. It gave the Bulls a 45-22 lead and they led 50-32 at halftime. Butler had 14 points and Zipser.

The Bulls managed the lead to start the second half, still awry with their shots but contesting enough to keep the Nets off balance. The Nets got back within 58-40 before a Mirotic three and Rondo drive called for a timeout with a 63-40 Bulls lead. The Bulls eased to a 75-56 lead after three quarters led by Butler with 20 after three. The Bulls got a standing ovation from the home crowd as the game came to an end and the playoff were to begin with everyone 0-0 again.

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