Ugh. So, to get the circumstances out there:
- It was the second night of a back-to-back in the thin air of Denver.
- Taj Gibson was known to be out in this game, sent home from the road trip.
- Joakim Noah was a late scratch, with both his eye injury in Utah and an apparent flare-up of his surgically repaired knee.
- Derrick Rose played less than ten listless first-half minutes before exiting with tightness in his hamstring.
If it's not clear yet that this was just that kind of night the NBA schedule gives a team: CAMERON BAIRSTOW started.
All that considered, the Bulls put forth a valiant effort to keep the game close enough for Jimmy Butler to play 40 minutes and Pau Gasol to play 36. Probably needlessly valiant, but the Nuggets did their part in several points of the game to prevent themselves from closing it out. The Bulls actually did get to within 4, and later 3, in the final minute, but each time the Nuggets answered with clutch jumpers.
The aforementioned Butler and Gasol were by far the Bulls best players tonight, Butler especially amazing yet again with 32 points after going to the line a career-high 20 times. The Bulls differential at the foul line was what kept the Bulls relatively close, especially in the first half, but Denver had it way easier on the other end.
Neither Bairstow nor Nazr Mohammed embarrassed themselves or anything (which pleasantly surprised me, actually.), but replacing two of the best frontcourt defenders in the NBA was unsurprisingly an issue for the Bulls defense. The remaining Bulls big men were far too slow on the pick and roll, and they were killed again on the offensive glass (35% ORR for Denver).
Even in times when the Bulls offense was looking pretty good, they were at best trading baskets until the very end. The fact that it wasn't a blowout should be put on the Nuggets shot selection, casual yet hard dunk-misses, and sloppy turnovers, failing to take advantage of some real bad Bulls transition defense, especially in the times where Thibs went to an all-bench unit. Aaron Brooks was ok, Hinrich rebounded from an abysmal first half (after missing the last game) to have a real good 3rd quarter stint, but there was little from Mirotic and nothing from McDermott tonight.
The Nuggets were much better when they got their own goofy bench out for time with Ty Lawson was in, as nobody on the Bulls (Rose, Hinrich, even Butler) could stay in front of him, and the Nuggets PG finished with 20 points and 12 assists. And though he was bested by Butler in the matchup, Arron Afflalo had himself a nice game with 19 points including a 3-4 mark from three. It was those two who hit those final-minute shots, adding insult to the litany of Bulls injuries.