Sasha Vujacic was the second option, supposed to get the ball if the New Jersey Nets couldn’t get it to Brook Lopez.
That’s exactly what happened, so who cares that it wasn’t exactly how the Nets planned it?
Vujacic made the tiebreaking basket with 5.3 seconds left, and the Nets snapped their five-game losing streak with a 96-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night.
With the game tied at 94, Nets guard Devin Harris appeared to be attempting a lob pass to Lopez, but the Bulls’ C.J. Watson tipped the ball and it went to Vujacic, who put it in from close range for his 13th point.
”That’s how Devin drew it up,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. ”(Sasha) was in the right place at the right time. We were looking for Brook. If he wasn’t there, we wanted to get the ball to Sasha. Devin thought he saw something and boy, we got a good bounce. As hard as we’ve been working recently, we needed something fortunate to happen.”
Said Harris: ”The lob was a little bit low. I have to remember my guy is about 7-foot-2. Sasha did a great job of getting the loose ball and putting it in for us.”
With the Bulls out of timeouts, Derrick Rose missed a 3-pointer and Chicago’s five-game winning streak was over.
Kris Humphries responded to a demotion with a season-high 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Harris finished with 18 points and 11 assists for the Nets. Lopez scored 14 points.
”It was a game we just had to win,” Vujacic said. ”We really, really needed the win. We made some mistakes. I forced a couple of shots but we stayed with it.”
Rose had 21 points but just one assist for the Bulls, who lost for only the third time in 17 games. Luol Deng scored 15 points, but Carlos Boozer finished with just 12 in 26 minutes, sitting the entire fourth quarter as coach Tom Thibodeau went with a small lineup.
”You’ve got to talk to Thibs about that,” said Boozer, Chicago’s high-priced offseason acquisition. ”That was a coaching decision.”
Humphries headed to the bench so rookie Derrick Favors could make his first NBA start, but still played the majority of the minutes after Favors was in foul trouble throughout and helped the Nets avenge a loss to Chicago last week.
”Every night I am motivated to go out and play,” Humphries said. ”We’re trying to turn this around. Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, whatever my role is, I’ve got to play hard. Whatever your role is, you have to accept it and do it to your fullest.”
The Bulls had been beating up on weaklings, with a victory at Detroit before home wins over Milwaukee, New Jersey, Cleveland and Toronto. Their 90-81 victory over the Nets on New Year’s Eve in Chicago was the only victory by single digits during their streak.
But they seemed to lack energy a night after routing the Raptors, and their best stretch of play came mostly with reserves on the floor in the fourth quarter.
”We played very bad but we still had a chance to win,” Rose said. ”We had a lot of possessions where we could’ve took the lead or tied the game but we didn’t.”
The Nets led 93-84 with 2:59 left after Harris scored six straight points, but Rose wiped most of that out by converting a three-point play and nailing a 3-pointer before Ronnie Brewer’s fast-break bucket made it 93-92 with 1:45 to go.
The Bulls missed two chances to grab the lead before Lopez sank a free throw to make it a two-point game. Deng then missed two free throws, and after Harris was off on a jumper, Watson hit two from the line to tie it at 94 with 11.1 seconds remaining, setting up the Nets’ broken possession that turned into a winner.
The news before the game was the Nets’ lineup switch. Johnson said the Nets liked the work of Humphries, averaging a team-best 9.2 rebounds, but that it was time to give the No. 3 pick and youngest player in the league his chance to be an NBA starter.
”This has been planned for some time,” Johnson said before the game. ”He’s had about 34 games to get some experience coming off the bench. He’s played against the Bulls before. We move forward looking at our starting 4 and 5 man of the future.”
Actually, the 19-year-old Favors would have already been gone had a proposed four-team deal that would have brought Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey not fallen through during the preseason. New Jersey would still dangle Favors if a deal for Denver’s All-Star forward can be revived.
Favors finished with seven points and five rebounds in 9 minutes. He picked up two quick fouls and had to go to the bench, but Humphries replaced him and had 12 points in the first half to keep New Jersey within 47-46.
Favors then had the first two baskets of the second half to propel the Nets into the lead before quickly going back to the bench after picking up his fourth. He watched the Nets open a 78-65 lead after Jordan Farmar picked up Rose’s turnover and rushed downcourt for a dunk with 4.4 seconds left to cap New Jersey’s 32-point third quarter, its best of the season.
Notes: Lopez, the Nets’ center, grabbed two rebounds in the opening 2 minutes, then didn’t have another until there were about 6 1/2 minutes left in the game. … The Bulls will have to win the final two meetings to win the series for only the third time in 11 seasons.