Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams (8) drives toward the basket with Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) defending in the first half of an NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in New York. Williams was injured toward the end of the first half. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Updated: February 1, 2013 11:27PM
NEW YORK — Though Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau seems to enjoy the greatest degree-of-difficulty, playing a quality team on the road without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich proved to be a little too much.
With Hinrich in Chicago getting his right elbow evaluated and Noah (foot) and Boozer (hamstring) sitting out with injuries, the Bulls predictably were game but faded in the fourth quarter in a 93-89 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night at Barclays Center.
Thibodeau made the most of a patchwork lineup of Luol Deng (18 points), Taj Gibson (16 points, nine rebounds), Nate Robinson (12 points, 11 assists), Marco Belinelli (18 points) and Jimmy Butler (12 points) for most of the game. The Bulls led 67-63 after three quarters, but the Nets outscored the Bulls 18-7 in the first 7:30 of the fourth quarter to take an 81-74 lead.
Robinson, who missed 11 of his first 12 shots, scored six points and Gibson had a dunk as the Bulls closed to 86-84 with 1:24 left. But Andray Blatche backed in on Gibson and scored and was fouled, hitting the free throw for an 89-84 Nets lead with 1:06 to go.
The Bulls still didn’t go away. Down 91-86, Luol Deng hit a free throw with 18 seconds to play and Butler tipped the inbounds pass to Deng for a steal and easy hoop that made it 91-89 with 15.9 sconds left.
It wasn’t over until former Bull C.J. Watson hit two free throws to make it 93-89 with 11 seconds left and Deng missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession.
Hinrich was sent back to Chicago after suffering pain in his right elbow that has hampered him previously this season.
‘‘He had some discomfort last night, so we sent him back to have Dr. [Brian] Cole take a look at him,’’ Thibodeau said.
Boozer missed his second consecutive game with a sore hamstring. Noah did not play because of foot soreness.
‘‘He’s nicked up,’’ said Thibodeau, who described Noah’s injury as a ‘‘lower-body’’ affliction. ‘‘I guess it’s lower body, foot. I don’t know.’’
‘‘Next man up,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We’ve been down this road before. He’s out. Nate’s in. Marquis [Teague], Marco, whoever. Just be ready.’’
The Bulls play the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night in Atlanta.