The Bulls were already down Alex Caruso, Javonte Green, Coby White and Patrick Williams. Then came the news that DeMar DeRozan was in health and safety protocols and would miss Monday’s home game against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. Even Stacey King was out for this game.
That didn’t stop the Bulls from destroying the Nuggets in the second half after a sluggish first half, putting on a show in the process in a 109-97 victory. Sure, Denver is in the middle of a road trip and down a number of key players as well, but this is still a quality team when the MVP is playing. Jokic was a plus-7 and had a triple-double of 17 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds, but he struggled with his shooting (6-of-17) and Chicago absolutely wrecked the visitors when he was on the bench. And, importantly, the Bulls won the Jokic minutes in the second half as they cruised to a win.
Early on, it looked like this was going to be a long night. Chicago’s offense labored at the start of the game, while Jokic took advantage of double-teams with his pinpoint passing to find open shooters as part of a 27-18 first quarter. The Bulls reeled the Nuggets back in with Jokic on the bench, only to see their deficit balloon back up to 11 late in the second quarter.
But that’s when the game started to shift Chicago’s way. The Bulls finished the half on a 10-2 run, complete with a wild Derrick Jones Jr. shot at the end of the clock. It was 49-46 Nuggets at halftime, with both teams shooting terrible percentages from the field.
The game went back and forth to start the third quarter before Zach LaVine exploded, putting the team on his back and creating some separation. He scored 12 points in about four minutes to end the third, and a Matt Thomas (he got extended burn in this game with so many guys out) 3-pointer had the crowd going crazy as the Bulls went up nine before Aaron Gordon hit a 3-pointer of his own at the buzzer to make it 77-71 Bulls going to the fourth.
That’s when things got really fun.
With Jokic on the bench, the Bulls scored six points on one possession, and an Ayo Dosunmu 3-pointer moments later quickly made it a 13-point advantage just a few minutes into the final frame. The Nuggets brought Jokic and the starters back in and momentarily stemmed the tide, but then Chicago went Showtime on Denver to close out the game, with a number of dunks and circus shots to send the UC into a frenzy:
The Bulls scored 15 fast-break points to a big fat zero for the Nuggets.
LaVine finished with a game-high 32 points on 13-of-23 shooting to go along with eight assists after a sluggish start of the game. LaVine was matched in assists by Ayo, who put forth an incredible effort in his 42 minutes after he too got off to a rough start in the first start of his career. The rookie finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and also grabbed six rebounds to go with those eight dimes. He provided a major spark, and it was great to see him making huge plays in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic both notched double-doubles, with Ball going for 20 points, 10 rebounds (five offensive), four assists and four blocks in a terrific two-way performance. Vucevic really struggled with his shooting by going 8-of-24 on a ton of good looks, but he too had 20 and 10, and he also did an admirable job making Jokic work offensively. When the Bulls doubled Jokic, they often ran into trouble because of his passing wizardry, but playing him straight up often worked out okay, thanks in part to Vooch standing strong.
Derrick Jones Jr. got another start and also reached double figures, going for 12 points and nine rebounds (four offensive) and wowing the crowd with his highlight-reel plays. Thomas, Troy Brown Jr. and Tony Bradley were the other rotation guys for the night, and while they didn’t do much offensively, it was a very low bar to outplay a truly putrid Nuggets bench. The bench guys crushed it on the boards as this trio racked up 17 of the Bulls’ 55 rebounds.
Chicago wound up shooting 53.2% from the field in the second half to get to a respectable 45.1% for the game. The Bulls also outshot the Nuggets from 3 (13-of-37 to 11-of-32) after a big disadvantage in the first quarter. It was really impressive to see the Bulls find that extra gear in the second half while down so many players after struggling so much offensively in the first half.
The Bulls have now won four games in a row for the second time this season, and their 17-8 record has them just percentage points behind the Nets for the No. 1 spot in the East. Next up is another tough matchup against a feisty Cavaliers team on Wednesday in Cleveland. It’s unclear if DeRozan will be available, but we know Caruso will be out at least a week. This team is incredibly resilient, though, and they’ve proven they can beat anybody on a given night.