It seemed as if the Nets had decided that playing defense was optional, that guarding oh, say, Michael Jordan was unnecessary, and that New Jersey would beat the Bulls simply by outscoring them.
And so the Nets lost 116-101 Wednesday night at the Continental Airlines Arena. Of course they were not going to outscore the world champions. Jordan had 38 points on 16-for-22 shooting.
Worse, the Nets were forced to call timeout when Chicago's Scott Burrell made back-to-back three-pointers. Much worse, Dennis Rodman made an unguarded three-pointer.
Eliminated from this first-round NBA playoff series 3-0, the Nets will go home as this year's version of the Washington Wizards, convinced they competed well with the Bulls (the first two losses were competitive) and certain young players such as Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn are just a step away from playoff greatness.
Note to Nets: The Wizards missed the playoffs altogether this season.
The Bulls move ahead. They will listen to the snipers who will point to those trying victories over the Nets and say that the Bulls are beatable.
Note to snipers: After the Bulls lost a couple games to the Wizards last year and a couple to Atlanta, there was a mad rush to write their obituary.
But the Bulls will laugh, kick back, play some golf, wait for Charlotte or Atlanta to fight to the death in their first-round playoff series, maybe get center Luc Longley back and healthy and keep on keeping on.
All five Chicago starters scored in double figures Wednesday night, and Burrell added 23 off the bench. The Bulls made 9 of 16 three-point shots.
The Nets set their defensive tone early. Jordan made the Bulls' first shot, a three-pointer, and as Chicago coach Phil Jackson noted, "That first shot of the game for Michael, he was wide open. There was no one within 20 feet of him."
Note to Nets: Next time, guard Jordan.
By halftime, the Nets had shot 65 percent and were losing 61-52. Jordan had 23 points _ "I was using my head and shoulder fake a lot and getting their big guys off their feet," Jordan said.
In the 1990s, the Bulls have lost only two first-round playoff games. In each of their five championship seasons with Jordan, the Bulls have swept this first-round best-of-five. They've won 11 straight first-round games, and if this doesn't seem important, consider the energy saved, both physical and psychic, as the playoffs progress.
"It's so important to win these opening series in a hurry," Jackson said. "It really does give us an advantage in the rest of the playoffs.
The Nets led three times, the last 6-5 after Kendall Gill made his third-straight 20-foot jump shot.
There was never a time in the second half when there was any sense that New Jersey, in its first home playoff game since 1994, was any threat to extend this series to Friday night.
John Calipari, the manic Nets coach whose sideline gymnastics made Jordan laugh and stare at him, said that "except for defense and rebounding, we played pretty well."
At the end of the first quarter Rodman had six rebounds and the Nets had two. At halftime Rodman had eight rebounds, the Nets six.
With 10 minutes left in the fourth, the Nets scored six straight points to cut the lead to 97-85, and after Sherman Douglas converted a three, there was bedlam.
But then Jordan used that head-and-shoulder fake for an 18-foot jumper, and Burrell followed with his back-to-back threes, each with no one putting a hand in his face.