The Bulls are selling hope this season, which isn't the glitziest marketing tool when a team is six seasons and 341 losses removed from its glory days.
But if such esoteric concepts are as exciting as Friday night's game, this could work.
All the training camp talk about harder-working players and more mental toughness sure rang hollow when the Bulls fell behind 27 points to an average New Jersey team in Friday night's season opener at the United Center.
But those elements were on full display in a stirring second-half comeback that fell short in a 111-106 double-overtime loss that nevertheless jazzed the near-sellout crowd of 20,117 that had offered nothing but boos early.
In the first overtime, no team scored in the final 96 seconds. The Bulls dodged a bullet when Chris Duhon's inbound pass with two seconds left sailed out of bounds and gave Richard Jefferson a three-pointer at the buzzer that rimmed out.
In the second overtime, Bulls rookie Andres Nocioni missed two free throws with 1:06 remaining, then fouled out as Alonzo Mourning dunked for a four-point lead with 48.7 seconds left.
Nocioni finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds. The Bulls didn't recover, getting whistled for an offensive foul on Kirk Hinrich on the next possession.
New Jersey forced overtime when Jefferson drained a long jumper with one foot barely on the three-point line with 4.2 seconds left in regulation. He led the Nets with 26 points.
The Bulls opened the door by having Hinrich and Nocioni each merely split a pair of free throws in the final 14.2 seconds. The Bulls shot 59.3 percent from the line.
The comeback featured one familiar hero in Hinrich, who rebounded from a slow start to lead all scorers with a career-high 34 points and added seven assists. He also played 55 minutes with another game on tap Saturday.
"I'm just so much more comfortable and confident this season," Hinrich said.
It also introduced rookie Luol Deng to the grand stage in a big way.
Deng, who came off the bench to replace an ineffective Ben Gordon, scored 16 of his 18 points after halftime, consistently fighting for loose balls and pushing inside for offensive putbacks.
"That's the way I have to play," said Deng, who added 10 rebounds. "I'll never stop working."
Deng and Hinrich joined veterans Adrian Griffin and Othella Harrington and rookie Chris Duhon in a lineup that used full-court pressure to close the third quarter with a 20-8 run.
That woke the Bulls from a first-half slumber that evoked memories of last season's enormous, season-opening duda 25-point loss to Washington.
Congratulations are in order for all those Bulls fans who had "early second quarter" in the pool for first boos of the 2004-05 season.
With the game tied 11-11, the Bulls missed 14 of their next 16 shots in surrendering a staggering 30-4 run. The dismal stretch brought those first boos 110 seconds into the second quarter, to be more precise than the Bulls, who shot 30 percent in the first half.
Like Antonio Davis, Eddy Curry watched the game at home as both served the first of their two-game suspensions. Curry is the only inside scoring threat besides Harrington, and his absence tested the Bulls' outside shooting, which was atrocious early.
The Bulls are now 20-19 all-time in season openers.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times