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Anatomy of a collapse: Dissecting the final two baskets for the Bulls and Nuggets

The Bulls defense collapsed late and allowed Denver to steal the win

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Even though this season the Chicago Bulls are not expected to win many games, losing close ones in the final seconds still hurt. That was the feeling for the Bulls as they walked off the court in the Pepsi Arena after losing 111-110 against the Denver Nuggets. After a very good first half, Chicago played the exact opposite in the second and faded away late to ultimately lose the game. And up 108-105 heading into the last 60 seconds of the game In the end, it was crucial mistakes on the defensive end which ended up costing Chicago the victory.

Some of the credit, however, goes to Nuggets guard Will Barton. The 26 year old scored a career high 37 points off the bench, hitting 6 three-pointers in the process. He took over in the final minutes of the game, scoring the Nuggets last 6 points and took advantage of his matchup against Justin Holiday.

It all began with 45 seconds left in the game when Holiday inexplicably fouled Barton while he was shooting a three and allowed Denver to tie up the game. Then soon after, Holiday missed a three-pointer of his own on the other end and a similar result followed when he went back on defense. Barton was able to drive right past him and force Holiday to foul him. He only hit one free throw though, and gave Chicago a chance to win the game.

Let’s look at both the Bulls and Nuggets final baskets in this game:

The play for Chicago begins with a simple handoff from Robin Lopez to Kris Dunn, who starts out as the inbounds man. The handoff also forced Denver to switch defensively, creating a mismatch with Dunn against a big man. Kenneth Faried, who was guarding Lopez initially, switched onto Dunn and now is isolated at the top of the key against him. After a couple of crossovers which doesn't take him anywhere Dunn backs up to behind the three-point line, allowing Faried to re-establish position. It also allow Jamal Murray, who is guarding Denzel Valentine on the perimeter too, to shift over and form a partial double team. With nobody really moving around to make themselves open, Dunn goes to work with 13.5 seconds left. He fakes a move left, forcing Faried to slide that way, but then quickly shifts right and splits the partial double team. To his credit, Faried does a great job recovering and is right with Dunn as he steps into the paint. With his man on his left hip, Dunn decides to go for an acrobatic layup. Starting at the dashed lines of the circle Dunn leaps in the air, absorbs the contact off Faried, and flips up a shot with his right hand.

It was an extremely tough shot for Dunn who impressively banks it in and gives Chicago the lead. But there was just one problem: there was still 9.6 seconds left on the clock and Denver had a chance to steal the game.

As had been for the past two offensive possessions, the ball was in Barton’s hands for Denver. He quickly dribbled the ball up the floor and by the time he got to the half court line, you could already see what was going to happen. Before Barton got to half court line Faried and Trey Lyles, who were Denver’s two big men on the court, looked to be setting screens on the left side. Holiday, who was guarding Barton, sensed the screens on his right and shifted his body to force Barton to go right. The problem was that there was nobody in Barton’s way when he went right. The double screen looked to be a decoy and it caught both of Chicago’s big men out of the paint. Lauri Markkanen was near the three-point line waiting for Lyles and Faried going there dragged Lopez out of the paint. So when Holiday shifted his body to force Barton to go a certain way, he was essentially giving him an open lane to the basket. Seeing this huge amount of space open up, Barton sprinted towards the basket. Kris Dunn shifted over and swiped at the ball but got nothing. Lopez was able to get back and was at the rim when Barton went up. But the former Memphis guard did the spectacular and went under Lopez’s body and outstretched arms to hit a reverse layup which rolled around the rim and in. It gave Denver the lead and turned out to be the game winner.

Chicago overall played well in this game but their defense fell asleep in the final seconds and costed them the win.