The Bulls were heavy underdogs in this one, never playing well in Denver and being awful themselves at the moment. They wound up putting up a pretty great performance (for them), but ultimately had a win pulled out of their grasp by a Will Barton layup with 3 seconds remaining to lose 111-110.
This was a quality result even in the loss, as the Bulls saw some nice performances from Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. Both scored clutch baskets in the final couple minutes as the Bulls were otherwise afflicted by the Justin Holiday experience on both sides of the ball. Holiday was easily beat by Barton on the final play, fouled Barton on two other possessions, and attempted a double-clutch three pointer with 17 seconds left on the shot clock after a Bulls timeout (both teams ran out of timeouts for their final attempts).
But Markkanen and Dunn’s clutch attempts were emblematic of their games. Markkanen did a lot more damage inside than what he’d been attempting during in his recent slump. He took advantage of switches where only 3 of his 17 attempts were from beyond the arc while attempting 5 free throws. He finished with 20 points to tie for the team-high with Robin Lopez.
Not just a shooter. Lauri showing his post moves for the and-1. He's playing aggressive tonight: pic.twitter.com/3mDIfCgbPX— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 1, 2017
Dunn was only a single point off that mark with 19, as he and Lopez were completely roasting Nikola Jokic in the pick and roll. Both Bulls shot 9-11 from the field for the game, with Dunn contributing 5 assists to only a single turnover (he also had a very Kris Dunn thing where an attempted post entry pass hit off the rim).
4 of Dunn’s assists came in his first stint, as the Bulls started out the game scorching hot to build up a 26-8 lead and ultimately scoring 68 points by halftime on 64% shooting. While they were a brilliant 7-13 from three in that first half, it was the inside scoring off the Dunn-led pick and roll that made the biggest difference.
The Nuggets stayed in things by hitting 7 threes of their own in that half, plus a late surge from Jokic. Fred Hoiberg went with the curious decision to have Jokic defended on the outside by Markkanen leaving Lopez on Kenneth Faried. It wasn’t much of a performance by the Bulls defense overall, but ultimately Jokic was a net-negative out there with his failure to guard in space. When he exited the game with a nasty ankle injury, it was somewhat of a blessing for the Nuggets to go small with Barton in their starting lineup.
Barton was just unconscious on his way to 37 points, especially early in the second half where a streak of 3-point shooting had Denver claim the lead. The rest of the game was fairly back-and-forth, with Barton’s move to the starting lineup meaning the Nuggets bench (they were missing Paul Milsap and Wilson Chandler entering the game) was especially bad (Richard Jefferson retirement indication, this game) with Jerian Grant, Bobby Portis, and Paul Zipser (horrid defensively, but he hit open shots in this one) each providing enough buckets. The Nuggets meanwhile were struggling to get offense down the stretch, only to be bailed out by some bad Bulls defense where they either fouled, or in the case of the final basket gave a wide-open lane. Then you look up and see the Bulls scored only 42 points in the second half and realize they aren’t the leagues-worst offense for nothin’.
It may ‘feel’ ‘good’ for tankin’, but this one likely stings in the locker room as despite a relatively poor second half they were active on both ends and in the end it was a game they could’ve easily had. They were seemingly shell-shocked after the Barton make, as Denzel Valentine eventually ambled past midcourt and didn’t even get his attempt off in time (he did at the end of the first half though!). Now it’s an especially cruel 24 hours as they are immediately heading home to face the Kings.