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No way to start a series: Bulls go down meekly to Nets 106-89

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez right blocks shot by Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler during second quarter Game 1 first round NBA

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez, right, blocks a shot by Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler during the second quarter of Game 1 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs at the Barclays Center, Saturday, April 20, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig

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• Game 1: Bulls at Nets, 7 p.m. Saturday

• Game 2: Bulls at Nets, 7 p.m. Monda y

• Game 3: Nets at B ulls 7:30 p.m. Thursday

• Game 4: Nets at Bu lls1 p.m. April 27

• Game 5*: Bulls at NetsTBD Apr. 29

• Game 6*: Nets at BullsTBD May 2

• Game 7*: Bulls at NetsTBD May 4

*If necessary

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Updated: May 22, 2013 7:05AM

NEW YORK — Growing up in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Projects, a few blocks from the Barclays Center, Taj Gibson felt his share of punches growing up.

But it had been awhile.

That is until Saturday night.

The Nets punched early, punched often and punched hard, taking Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs 106-89 and leaving Gibson and the Bulls to clean up the mess and make a visit to the mirror.

“We got punched in the mouth early,’’ Gibson said after the loss. “It was hard because once a team like that gets rolling, it’s hard to shut them off.

“We’ve got to understand that it’s a new season, it’s playoff basketball. It’s much faster, much more physical. We just have to adjust and play a lot harder.’’

Because they couldn’t play any worse.

There was the entire starting five coming out of the gate slowly, falling behind 25-14 after the first quarter. Then there was the second quarter, which perhaps was the worst quarter defensively the Bulls have played all season long.

The Nets shot 16-for-20 (80 percent) from the field, including 13-for-15 in the paint for 26 points. Former Bulls reserve C.J. Watson scored 10, while the Bulls offense went 8-for-18 in the quarter. That’s how you go into the halftime locker room down 60-35.

“It was the end of the first, and they hit us with a haymaker, got us back on our heels,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “End of the first, [into] the second quarter, poor defense, poor intensity, poor energy on offense, can’t win like that.’’

Specifically, defensive lapses irked Thibodeau. That’s his bread and butter, and it was reduced to crumbs. Asked where it went wrong, specifically that the Nets finished with 56 points in the paint on 28-for-38 shooting, Thibodeau threw a punch of his own — right at his players.

“From A to Z,’’ Thibodeau said. “Defensive transition, middle penetration, poor paint protection, poor help, poor on the ball technique, lack of a multiple-effort mentality, you name it.’’

It was far from what Thibodeau expected from his team.

After all, there seemed to be an emotional lift with the news that Joakim Noah would start, considering that 24 hours earlier, he was all but ruled out because of the plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

But while Noah brought some emotion to the court, physically he still looked like a guy playing on one good leg at times.

“The thing is, he hasn’t practiced so he’s going to be rusty, but I would rather have him out there,’’ Thibodeau said.

“Anything he can give us is a plus. We didn’t play well, it wasn’t Jo, it was our team. He’s a big plus for our team, and we have to play better, everyone has to play better.’’

Noah finished with four points and five rebounds, playing just over 13 minutes.

“You know what? We’ve got to bounce back,’’ Noah said. “There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve shown great resiliency all year and we’ve got a lot of basketball left.’’

The Bulls got a scare in the third when Kirk Hinrich collided with Reggie Evans and had to leave the game with a bruised left thigh, but Hinrich said he was fine afterwards.

The Bulls’ psyche? Not so much.

“It’s Game 1, it’s not the series,’’ power forward Carlos Boozer said. “This will be a long series.’’

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