NEW YORK – About an hour before the opening tip, a reporter asked Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau for his starting lineup.
“Don’t know,” he said.
Given that his team was missing three starters (four if you count Derrick Rose) and that his most viable replacement for Joakim Noah was either the ancient Nazr Mohammed or a banged-up Vladimir Radmanovic, Thibodeau’s reluctance to supply information was understandable this time.
That loss of firepower was felt late, as the Nets outscored Chicago 30-22 in the final frame, and the Bulls’ first trip to the Barclays Center resulted in a 93-89 loss.
“Guys are out, guys are tired. Whatever,” Thibodeau said. “It’s the NBA. Whatever the circumstances, you have to be able to get it done.”
The Nets got it done down the stretch, with former Bulls guard C.J. Watson swishing two free throws with 11 seconds left, then closely guarding Luol Deng’s 3-pointer that came up short.
The Bulls finished 1-for-14 on 3s, and Deng (18 points) played all but four seconds Friday. Brooklyn native Taj Gibson played all 48 minutes for the first time in his career.
“That’s a soldier,” teammate Richard Hamilton said. “I don’t think I’ve ever played 48 straight minutes in a game. Takes a lot of guts to do that.”
It might not bode well for Saturday night’s game in Atlanta.
“I’m gonna be ready,” promised Gibson, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. “Whatever Thibs needs me to do.”
Mohammed started for Noah, who missed the game with a foot injury. Noah said it’s his right foot, not related to the left foot issues that dogged him two seasons ago.
“It has been bothering me for a couple of games,” Noah said. “I need to get this thing right.”
Nate Robinson replaced Kirk Hinrich, who returned to Chicago to have his right elbow re-examined by team physician Brian Cole. The concern is that the elbow became infected after the injury that sidelined him Jan. 9 against the Bucks.
“It’s sore and he was having pain,” Thibodeau said.
Boozer, meanwhile, missed his second straight game with a sore right hamstring, and he is pledging to “be smart about it,” mindful that Deng sat out five games last month with a similar injury.
“Like a groin, you might not feel it right away,” Boozer said. “Then you make a long stride and next thing you know, you pull it.”
Boozer might play Saturday against the Hawks. Noah’s status is up in the air.
“When they get healthy, they will be back playing,” Thibodeau said. “But we can’t wait on them.”
Star of the game: Taj Gibson, Bulls, 16 points, 9 rebounds, played all 48 minutes
Up next: Bulls at Hawks, 6 p.m. Saturday
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