Last night, your Chicago Bulls turned in what truly felt like their first unenthusiastic performance of the still-young season. Their prior losses have all been some shade of ‘competitive’, but this one was an outright stinker ultimately closing at a 126-103 loss.
Though a loss in and of itself wasn’t much of a surprise (Denver is mostly healthy and deep and, at 9-4, has the second-best record in the West), the Bulls’ general listlessness following a four-day break was alarming. Despite having apparently had two days of practices, Chicago looked woefully underprepared for this big, sharpshooting Denver club.
Chicago’s defense on the whole this season has been very good, and while it did have some nice moments tonight, overall they struggled to guard Denver in space.
But first, look over there, it’s a nice early steal from Ayo Dosunmu:
Despite some enthusiastic early defense from Dosunmu, the Bulls as a team were in shambles basically from the jump. In the first period, Chicago turned over the rock six times, scored 20 points on a mediocre 8-of-19 shooting from the field, and allowed the opposition to convert a brutal 60% of its field goals. After one, the Nuggets led 32-20.
In the second quarter. Chicago tried to capitalize on early Denver lineups that featured The Corpse Of DeAndre Jordan filling in for reigning two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic. It’s been a problem for Denver all season to try and even keep pace with opponents while Jokic was on the bench. Sure enough, the Bulls quickly went on an 8-0 run thanks to the efforts of Billy Donovan’s patented LaVine + bench lineup that has produced results many times this season:
Drummond and Dragic continued to impress in their limited minutes with the Bulls. Drummond, who as you’ll no doubt remember used to be a two-time All-Star and is still somehow only 29, scored his 10,000 career point. For the night, he finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 11 rebounds in 21:31.
Patrick Williams, whose effort as you know can wax and wane, looked somewhat engaged again tonight. On this play, he dribbled the ball all the way down the floor and into the lane, where he made an impressive stagger-step drive while drawing contact.
He nailed that free throw, bringing the Bulls to within four midway through the second period, 43-39.
But that was when things got dark. Denver would go on to outscore Chicago 19-8 down the last stretch of the half, taking a 62-47 lead into the break. The third quarter played out like the rest of the game, where the Bulls would fall in a hole and only partially climb out behind bench units, and the game was all but over by the end of the third quarter.
Part of the problem was Chicago’s struggles guarding the three:
Hard to say who is to blame given I don't know the principles of the defense and who/when switches should happen, but pretty clear that Ayo and Pat weren't on the same page, which led to the Murray three.— Mark K (@mkhoops) November 14, 2022
The Bulls can't give up these types of 3s whilst only taking 12 themselves pic.twitter.com/4XK4Kks3wE
The Bulls offense also didn’t shoot many threes let alone nail any. This is where Chicago is heavily missing Lonzo Ball, who took 7.4 triples a night last season (and made an elite 42.3% of them!). Tonight, the Nuggets sank 13 of their 27 three-point looks (48.1%), compared to the Bulls’ middling 6-of-22 evening from deep. Only one Bull, Williams, made more than one triple (he went 2-of-3).
Among the Bulls’ three $20 million+ star players, Zach LaVine had a solid night overall, going 8-of-15 from the floor for 21 points, He also grabbed five boards and dished out four dimes. DeMar DeRozan had a quiet-but-efficient night, going 6-of-11 from the field for 16 points. Nikola Vucevic notched just nine points and six rebounds, while playing a modest 23:04.
On the other end, Michael Porter was particularly impressive. He scored 31 points on 11-of-16 shooting (including 6-of-9 from deep), a season high from him so far. Jamal Murray seems to be rounding back into form after a year off, he poured in 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting for Denver.
Nikola Jokic somehow dominated this game while taking just four shots. He made all of them, but also chipped in 14 assists and six rebounds.
Chicago now gets another long break, and will next face off against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. Here’s hoping tonight’s Vacation Mode Bulls will not turn in a repeat performance.