USA TODAY Sports
stuff happened before the interference calls...
The Bulls loss to the Nuggets ended on a sour note that is still being hashed out as to what the officials did wrong or right: both in terms of the rules themselves as well as when calls were made and how replay was utilized.
But in the end the Bulls get a loss. But also in the end they had an extremely commendable game. These types of nights almost don't seem real: the Bulls were down to essentially a 6-man rotation (Teague/Mohammed played a combined eight minutes) against one of the hottest and best teams in the league. And through the way Thibodeau has these guys prepared, plus some magnificent individual performances...they still almost pulled it out.
It wasn't just the circumstances heading into the game that put this potential win at such an improbability. There were plenty of stretches during the game where the Bulls looked completely outclassed. The Nuggets combination of depth, athleticism, aggression, and smarts make facing them frightening, especially when they're on the fast break. After a slow start, Denver inserted Wilson Chandler at PF and it completely changed the game, starting out with several quick baskets and never quite stopping on his way to 35 points.
The Bulls were too often on their heels in transition, and even in the half-court would lose players on cuts to the basket. I don't think I've ever heard Stacey King say the Bulls defense 'lost' someone as often as he did this game (and this was before I remembered to mute the announcers!), and there were many culprits. But the chief of which was (to nobody's surprise) Carlos Boozer. Booz just didn't look like he belonged on the floor with this kind of action. If the Bulls had Taj Gibson, Thibs probably would've successfully hidden Boozer for much of this one. But the injuries, plus some Joakim Noah foul trouble, pressed Boozer into way more action than his play deserved. It wasn't just him making mistakes: Nate, Belinelli, Butler all would be guilty of losing their man or not getting back on defense, and Luol Deng was out-muscled several times by Chandler. But Boozer's supposed to bring a size advantage on the other end to negate the Nuggets going small, and he couldn't consistently do so. The Nuggets would take their biggest lead in the 2nd quarter and often be able to keep the Bulls at a safe distance with insanely-quick scoring bursts.
Who did look the most comfortable playing small-ball tonight was who you'd probably expect to: Nate Robinson, Joakim Noah, and Jimmy Butler. Nate had the most spectacular line with his 34 points on 13-22 shooting, but had the most relatively uneven night of the three given his defensive shortcomings in the game. But Robinson's huge shots more than made up for that. The Bulls never let the Nuggets get too far ahead, and Nate hit several threes in the second half to bring them within 4, then 3, and then tying the game with 13 second remaining. There was some 'bad Nate' mixed in in spurts, but ultimately he played insanely hard for 46 minutes and made this a contest.
Joakim Noah wound up at 'only' 35 minutes in an overtime game due to the mentioned foul trouble, but when he was on the floor he made a huge defensive impact. Noah was providing some of the Bulls only resistance for much of the game and ended up with 7 blocks on a true stat-stuffing night (14 points on 7-10 shooting, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists). He had 2 baskets and one final block on a Ty Lawson attempt in overtime, and his play tonight deserved a better result than what he got (though such a concept doesn't really, ya know, exit). Jimmy Butler also seemed at ease in the Denver style of basketball, and had 3 blocks of his own to complement a really well-rounded game from him.
While watching these six Bulls take on a team that looked so much better than them at times, the improbability of it all almost can anger you. As in anything that doesn't intuitively 'make sense' can do at times. After the horrid loss on Sacramento in the midst of weeks of poor play and a pile of injuries, the Bulls beat the Warriors Friday and almost take down the Nuggets on Monday night. If a call is made here or there, or Andre Iguodala doesn't have 2 of his 3 makes all night come in the form of clutch three-pointers, the Bulls have their least likely two-game winning streak of the season. But, then again: seeing Nate Robinson run around all night in his own world making magic occur (along with goofball faces) makes it all seem so random in the Bulls favor as well.
It's hard to shake a general malaise of this season, and a win in this game wouldn't really have changed that. But it was also challenged quite often when watching it: where they first didn't get blown out, always doing enough to keep the game within double-digits. Then managing to tie the game in regulation, then falling down 3 points in overtime only to go ahead again. To then at the point where one could opine that the win was 'stolen from them'...speaks to why this team IS pretty good, or at least still worth watching: they're very well coached (I thought on the other hand that George Karl aided the Nuggets lame 4th with too much Miller-Lawson and no trust in his centers), and have players capable of some magnificent performances. The win-loss record matters more at this point of the season than the rest of it all, but it still is worth mentioning how bizarre of an experience Bulls basketball can be.