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Gritty is good enough for Bulls in Game 3

Bulls forward Taj Gibsdunks over Nets forward Kris Humphries second quarter game three between Chicago Bulls Brooklyn Nets first round

Bulls forward Taj Gibson dunks over Nets forward Kris Humphries in the second quarter of game three between the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets first round playoff April 25, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 2, 2013 8:27PM



This is crazy, you know. The Bulls are made up of bloody bandages, average depth and a coach who welded the pedal to the metal at birth. Does that say “playoff success’’ or “please put us out of our misery?’’

You might have heard the Bulls have been without their star point guard all season. Their center has a foot that, with each step, feels like an encounter with a wasp’s nest. They have a high-jumping sixth man still recovering from a knee strain.

They shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, and, truth be told, they probably had no business winning 45 regular-season games. But here they are, seemingly unaware of how futile it’s all supposed to be.

And it certainly helped that the Nets couldn’t hit the broadside of a Wal-Mart on Thursday night.

The Bulls took a 2-1 series lead by holding on for dear life in a 79-76 victory against the Nets. It wasn’t pretty. The Bulls wouldn’t know pretty if you put Kate Upton in front of them. That’s OK.

“If you like old-school basketball, you’ll be a fan of the Bulls,’’ Luol Deng said. “We play ugly. That’s what we try to do. We try to make it a defensive game.’’

Nate Robinson and Joakim Noah missed free throws in the closing seconds, and somehow it didn’t matter.

“It was a grind, but we’ll take it,’’ said Kirk Hinrich, who was a rock at point guard Thursday.

The Bulls play hard. It’s all they know how to do. It means that, come playoff time, they don’t have to turn it on. There’s no off switch with coach Tom Thibodeau. That can be a blessing or a curse, and we’ve seen both in his tenure here. But on Thursday night, it was good.

The Nets are the more-talented team. Maybe they’re talented enough to turn it on whenever they want. But they don’t play as cohesively as the Bulls do, and they certainly don’t play as smart.

The Nets were a mess offensively in the first half, shooting 22.5 percent. Part of that was the Bulls’ defense. Part of it was open shots missed badly.

A 14-0 first-quarter run by the Bulls seemed to suck the energy right out of Brooklyn. And that sixth man still recovering from a knee strain? Yeah, well, Taj Gibson’s massive dunk in the second quarter threatened to knock the United Center off its moorings.

The way Noah has gutted out a foot injury is impressive. You don’t have to be a Bulls fan to appreciate it. You just have to be a fan of effort and desire. At times Thursday night, it looked as if he was in more pain than he had been in Game 2.

Which raises the question: How long can he keep this up? The plantar fasciitis that has bothered him much of this season won’t get better during the playoffs. I’m not a doctor. No, really, I’m not. But I do know that the condition is a pesky one that only goes away through lengthy rest.

Let’s say the series with the Nets goes seven games. Can anyone see him lasting into another series? Remember, this is the guy who sat out 12 of the Bulls’ last 15 regular-season games. And remember, this is the guy who, right up until Game 1 of this series, was going to play sparingly, if at all, because he was in too much pain.

If his sore arch suddenly starts raging the way plantar fasciitis has been known to rage, he’ll have a hard time lacing it up for a game every two or three days, right?

But then you watched him lumbering up the court again and again Thursday, and you weren’t sure of anything anymore.

“This is the life we chose, and these are not easy cards that we’re dealt,’’ Noah said. “Playing hurt is hard, but at the end of the day, I want to be out there.’’

When you see center Nazr Mohammed in the game, that’s when you know how beat up the Bulls are. He was around when the woolly mammoth was roaming the lane. But wasn’t that Mohammed playing a big role the last few games? And wasn’t that Mohammed tipping in a Deng miss in the third quarter when the Nets were threatening? It was indeed.

That’s the Bulls, a mixture of gauze, fill-ins and old standbys Deng and Carlos Boozer. And it is good. Or good enough.



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