The Bulls kinda stunk for the first quarter and a half of play, but then wound up blowing the doors off the Nuggets 110-90.
The fourth quarter was extended bench-only time, including some deep bench players, so it's tough to take too much from that period, but it was good to see the Bulls reserves not being the ones looking awful, as instead it was the Nuggets (led by old pal Nate Robinson, who hit this ridiculous shot but correlated with a disastrous team offense) throwing the ball all over the place and conceding the game.
Because in that first stint for the Bulls bench, it was not looking good. The starting lineup (with Dunleavy back after a 1-game absence) was already losing, with the Nuggets looking a step faster all around, but the bench only deepened things to the point of a 50-29 second quarter deficit. Mirotic was up and down, McDermott was invisible, and Taj Gibson was getting bested by rookie (and in the draft-day trade for McDermott) Jusuf Nurkic. Mirotic and especially McDermott wound up with solid lines for the game, but that first half was another instance of them needing a lot of work defensively, and you really have to question if Mirotic in particular will get much of a chance in the regular season if they struggle that much on the defensive glass when he's out there.
[This isn't to pick on the rookies as much as acknowledge as they're the most important and interesting ones to watch of the reserves. Hinrich and Brooks were pretty awful for stretches too, but they're probably not playing for their rotation spots]
Of course, things did get a lot better once the starters came back in (with McDermott as a holdover instead of Dunleavy). That lineup rattled off a 10-0 run in a little over a minute, fueled by forced turnovers, Derrick Rose acceleration, and two McDermott 3-pointers. By the end of the half they had tied the game, the crowd and bench was going crazy and the preseason champs were not going quietly in that good night. They gained a slight lead in the 3rd quarter and the Nuggets fell apart after that.
For someone who you'd think would be the 5th option in the Bulls top lineup, Jimmy Butler was the Bulls best player tonight, with 21 points in 22 minutes. Butler has seemingly abandoned the 3-point shot for now, but hit several mid-range jumpers and was ferocious as usual attacking the rim and offensive glass, only missing 1 of his 8 shots on the night and perfect on his 7 FT attempts. His defense was a total disruption, and he physically overwhelmed the more prototypical SG Arron Afflalo.
Derrick Rose watch: he was a mixed bag. Looked great pushing the pace though it resulted in some mistakes and forced (and blocked) attempts. His 3-point shot looked kind of broken at times, as he hit only 1 of 5. He wound up taking some real rough hits (including a scary-looking banged knee with fellow ACL-survivor Danilo Galinari) but wound up no worse for wear, which is good news. He and Noah once again played limited minutes with 21 apiece. Pau Gasol only played 24, and did not have a particularly good night, looking slow at points but also failing to finish offensively even over some of the smaller Nuggets defenders. Did have another 4 blocks though, which is kind of crazy. I also thought his post-passing was a bit sloppy as was the team overall, though the script was completely flipped by the 4th quarter, with the Nuggets winding up with 16 turnovers to the Bulls 11, and the Bulls holding a 23-11 edge in fast break points.