The Chicago Bulls forefited a halftime lead to the Denver Nuggets this evening in what ultimately became an ugly and borderline-unwatchable 125-107 loss. The second half was one of the worst defensive performances the Bulls have had all season, and this combined with a terrible offensive game for Jimmy Butler ultimately spelled doom for the four game winning streak the Bulls had entering the contest.
The Bulls relied on Dwyane Wade to run most of their offense in the initial stages of the game, and he delivered. Though he only scored two points through the first six minutes, he had four nice assists to keep the Bulls in front of a fast-paced Nuggets attack. One of those dishes was a beautiful alley-oop lob to Jimmy Butler:
Though the Bulls had no answer for impending NBA juggernaut Nikola Jokic early on, they continued their hot 3-PT shooting from last game by going 3-7 from distance in the quarter to stay ahead of their counterparts. Rajon Rondo also provided some nice early offense of his own to add to Chicago’s total, and the Bulls would end the first period with a 25-22 lead.
The opening six minutes of the second quarter belonged to Cristiano Felicio. As he often does when Rondo is in the game, Felicio teamed up with the Bulls’ bench general to create a lethal pick & roll combo that helped him burn the Nuggets for nine easy points:
The Bulls would coincidentally build a nine point lead before a 13-4 run by the Nuggets gave Denver the lead back with two minutes remaining in the first half. Fortunately, Chicago battled back with an 8-4 run to close out half fueled by great passing from Rondo. Thanks to the late bounce-back, the Bulls went into the locker room with a 59-56 lead after a second quarter that saw both teams score 34 points. The Bulls pulled down nine more offensive rebounds in the first half than the Nuggets via a 10-1 differential.
The Bulls and Nuggets would trade baskets for most of the third quarter, with the Bulls managing to stay in front for most of the first nine minutes. Rondo in particular had an uncharacteristically-hot stretch a little over midway through the period where he scored seven points on three straight possessions all from jumpshots. Unfortunately, the Nuggets would rip off a 13-4 run over the last three minutes of the quarter thanks to an assortment of freethrows on consecutive possessions, and the Bulls simply couldn’t keep pace with the scoring in that stretch. As a result, Chicago went into the final quarter down 91-83.
The Nuggets turned the inceptive minutes of the fourth into a three point shooting contest. As one can probably imagine, that did not go so well for Chicago. Danilo Gallinari proceeded to hit all three of his first three point attempts of the game, and then Jameer Nelson and Jamal Murray added a three each to puch the Nuggets’ lead to 21 with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game. Wade and Nikola Mirotic would each hit threes of their own during that stretch, but the rest of the team simply couldn’t keep up with the barrage that Denver unleashed from distance. The Bulls never recovered the rest of the way, opting to let Anthony Morrow make his Chicago debut over the last four minutes (he posted a trillion), and the Nuggets emerged victorious with a final score of 125-107 in their favor.
From the Bulls’ perspective, this game was a tale of two halves. The Bulls played with great energy and ball movement in the first half, as evidenced by their high assist and offensive rebound totals. In the second half, their committment to flowing offense evaporated completely, and everyone on the team seemed tired as the Nuggets got after it in transition and just appeared a step-ahead of the Bulls the rest of the way after their freethrow flurry to end the third quarter. Jimmy Butler played one of his worst games of the season, scoring only eight points in 35 minutes on 3-13 shooting. Nikola Jokic dropped a 19 point, 16 rebound, 10 assist triple-double that included a 3-3 performance from 3-PT range. If you haven’t been paying attention to the Nuggets this season, Jokic is one of the very best young talents we have ever seen in basketball.
Definitely not a great showing from the Bulls this evening. Tonight, fans saw firsthand some of the best and most of the worst of what this Bulls team has to offer, and it bit them pretty badly in the second half. It won’t get any easier as the week progresses, as the Bulls will next take on the Golden State Warriors on Thursday Night TNT before playing the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night.