The Chicago Bulls pulled away from the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter Wednesday night, winning 99-90 to improve to 11-5 on the season. For a team tied for second in the East and only a game back of first place, the Bulls have yet to play a complete game from the opening tip until the buzzer. Far too often we see this team go through long scoring droughts, come out with a lack of intensity or more importantly a sense of urgency. And yet, the Bulls continue to pull out wins in the fourth quarter.
Chicago opened Wednesday night's contest with great pace, getting the ball up the floor and moving the rock. Pau Gasol got off to a fast start, scoring 12 points on 6-8 shooting. Around the 7:30 mark, Nikola Mirotic took an elbow to face which resulted in a concussion and stitches that kept him sidelined for the remainder. Given the NBA's concussion protocol, it wouldn't be surprising if Niko missed the Bulls next game or two, which could mean some spot minutes for rookie Bobby Portis.
As the second quarter got underway the movement and pace the offense had in the first went flat, as Denver got off to a 9-4 run to get the score from 28-21 to 32-30 in favor of the Bulls. Although with a couple great looks from Doug McDermott and Joakim Noah's continued strong play pushed the Bulls to an 11 point lead at one point. However, Denver managed to get back into the game with a 6-0 run to end the half to pull within five, 51-46.
The third quarter was absolutely abysmal to watch from the Bulls perspective. Chicago came out with a total lack of energy on either end of the floor. Denver further stretched it's run to 14-5, dating back to the end of the second, as the Chicago's offense came to a halt, an all too common theme. Overall, it became so bad to watch that at what point ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell tweeted:
The Bulls look like they don't enjoy playing with one another right now.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) December 3, 2015
I can't really disagree with him either. Chicago and Denver continued in a back and forth affair for much of the quarter, until the Nuggets ran off a 13-3 run to end the quarter, heading into the fourth up four.
Much of the same transpired into the final period, though towards the middle of the quarter Chicago went on a 12-2 run to take control of the game, sparked by Gasol. In the fourth, Gasol tallied 12 points and nine rebounds to push the Bulls to an ugly win.
Individually, Gasol was great offensively, scoring 26 points on 12-19 shooting to go with 19 rebounds. Joakim Noah was active again tonight, building off his strong play against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night. He finished with nine points, 11 boards, four blocks and hit three of his four free throws! Rejoice! Tony Snell is quietly 7-10 from three over the last three games, but hasn't really presented the Bulls much outside of his long range shooting. Doug McDermott played well once again, finishing with another plus night, +14. He finished 5-9 from the field for 11 points, including a beautiful Dirk-esque fadeaway:
And then there's the bad. Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler went a combined 8-33 on the night. Butler's heel issue appears to be hampering his play more than what's being led on by him and the team. It's easy to see that Butler is clearly not the same player he was earlier in the year. The heel issue needs to be addressed in some capacity or another, because the Bulls can't afford to have him playing at a sub-par level. As for Rose, he finished the night with a season high of nine assist and showed solid decision making. But he went 3-17 from the field, struggling around the rim and from midrange to get anything to fall. For the most part the shots he took were the kind you wanted him to take, aside from two three's, and those misses even though the numbers look horrid, weren't that far off. At some point this has to change, right?
The Bulls take the court again Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets at 7 at the United Center.