NEW YORK – Kirk Hinrich was missing. So was the Bulls’ usual rebounding and defense.
Tom Thibodeau is used to being without key players, but counts on the Bulls having the other skills.
“He’s not out there, but I think it was a three-point game with seven minutes to go. We’ve got to find a way to get it done,” the Bulls coach said. “So we didn’t play our best, the rebounding was a big problem and defensively we’ve got to get it together.”
Brook Lopez had 28 points and 10 rebounds, Deron Williams added 23 points and 10 assists, and the Nets beat the Bulls, 110-91, on Monday night, cutting the Bulls’ lead to 3-2 in their first-round playoff series.
Recovering from a collapse two days earlier that sent them home on the brink of elimination instead of tied, the Nets battered the Bulls on the boards and forced them into being the team that wilted down the stretch.
“We came out very aggressive, as we have the past few games. I think the difference was just we sustained it for essentially a full 48 minutes tonight,” Lopez said.
Andray Blatche scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter and Gerald Wallace had consecutive baskets in the finishing surge as the Nets finally pulled away in a game they led most of the way, but never by too much.
Two days after rallying for a 142-134 triple-overtime victory, the Bulls were outscored 15-1 at the finish and failed to set up a second-round series with Miami. Instead they will host Game 6 on Thursday.
“It was just a lot of mental mistakes. A lot of mental mistakes,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “I feel like we had our chances. We beat ourselves. They played well. You’ve got to give credit when credit is due and now it’s on us to come back and be ready for Game 6.”
If the Nets win that one, they would host Game 7 on Saturday.
Nate Robinson had 20 points and eight assists starting in place of point guard Hinrich, who bruised his left calf in Saturday’s game and was in a walking boot Monday morning.
“For us, I knew it was going to be tough; it was going to be a challenge,” Robinson said. “At the same time, we’ve been here before playing with a guy short. It’s something we’ve got to do. We’ve just got to muster something and bring that energy and continue to play like we’ve been playing.”
Jimmy Butler scored 18 points for the Bulls, who were outrebounded 44-33 and gave up 24 second-chance points. Brooklyn shot 50 percent from the field.
“That’s the difference in the game, the rebounding,” Thibodeau said. “If you defend fairly well and then you give a team a second and a third crack at it, it’s hard to win like that.”
Only eight NBA teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit, but the Nets remained confident after Saturday’s collapse, feeling they had outplayed the Bulls for long stretches during the series. They have led by double digits in four of the five games.
“I believed that we would respond,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “We’ve bounced back all year too well, and as disheartening a loss as that was on Saturday, there’s still been enough good minutes in this series. Neither of us are getting away from each other.”
But they need two more wins against a Bulls franchise that is 12-0 all-time when holding a 3-1 lead.
“We feel like we’re the better team,” Wallace said. “We’ve just got to play a 48-minute game completely and stay in attack mode.”
Robinson scored 29 of his 34 points after the third quarter Saturday in a game the Nets led by 14 late in regulation. Coming off his big game and agitating to opposing fans even when he’s struggling, Robinson was loudly booed during introductions, and each time he touched the ball early on.
He made a jumper with 4:17 remaining to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 95-90, but there would be no charge this time. Lopez converted a three-point play, and after a free throw by Butler, Wallace nailed a 3-pointer, then came up with a steal and dunk to give the Nets a 103-91 advantage with 2 minutes to go.
The Nets finished it off with ease, prolonging their first season since moving from New Jersey.
The Nets ran off seven straight points late in the first quarter, five from Lopez, to turn a 17-17 tie into a 24-17 lead.
Brooklyn got eight second-quarter points from Kris Humphries, then opened its biggest lead when Johnson and Wallace made consecutive 3-pointers before Lopez made two free throws to make it 50-40. The Nets led 52-44 at the break.
The Nets had the lead into double digits a few times in the third quarter but never built on it. The Bulls were back within four by the end of the period after making 11 of 16 shots (69 percent).
Butler made a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter and make it a one-point game, but Chicago never could grab the lead in the final period.
Wallace scored 12 points and Reggie Evans grabbed 12 rebounds as the Nets improved to 6-0 all-time in Game 5s at home. They have never lost a series when holding home-court advantage.
Notes: Carlesimo said it wasn’t hard to ignore thoughts about his own future because the games come too quickly to worry about anything else. Though the Nets gave general manager Billy King a contract extension last week, it is unknown if Carlesimo will be back after leading the Nets to a 35-19 mark after replacing the fired Avery Johnson in late December. ... A number of New York Islanders were in the crowd at the franchise’s future home. The NHL team plans to move from Long Island to Barclays Center in 2015.
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