Add another to the 'worst loss of the season' debate. The Bulls (18-22) let slip a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in what Billy Donovan called "mind-boggling" fashion to lose 131-127 to the Denver Nuggets (25-16).
Here are 17 observations:
1. The Bulls got off to another fast start, leading 30-20 after the first quarter on the strength of the new starting lineup (which broke midway through the period with a 14-7 lead and on an 11-0 run) followed by strong bench play. They finished the period 6-for-10 from 3-point range and with 8 assists.
2. That lead swelled early in the second in a stretch powered by the reserves. The Bulls' bench outscored the Nuggets' 14-7 in the first quarter, and led 20-10 after a Ryan Arcidiacono and-one layup that stemmed from a steal of his made the score 38-23.
By the half, that advantage was 27-17. Entering the fourth: 41-19. And by game's end, the Bulls won the bench-points battle 60-24 -- one short of their season-high 61 bench points against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 17.
3. That will be music to Donovan's ears, who said pregame he was still working to strike the balance between his starters and reserves after the promotion of Thad Young and Tomáš Satoranský broke up the previous spark plug bench mob.
4. What won't be... Another late-game collapse. Eighteen third-quarter points from Zach LaVine (11) and Otto Porter Jr. (7) helped keep an eight-point lead steady entering the fourth. But the Nuggets climbed back in front at the 2:41 mark of the fourth -- 108-107 -- on the strength of a 19-4 run. After some back-and-forth, the game eventually went to overtime.
5. Their initial run sparked when Coby White (flagrant) fouled Michael Porter Jr. on a 3-point jumpshot with the Bulls ahead 103-89 at the 7:27 mark of the fourth. The collision turned into a four-point possession for Denver. A continuation of an uber-troubling trend for the Bulls this season.
6. Otto Porter Jr. did all he could. In by far his best game since returning from a nagging back injury, he scored 22 points (9-for-13 shooting, 4-for-7 from behind the arc), including some timely buckets in the fourth. One 3-pointer, just inside the two-minute mark, gave the Bulls a 110-108 lead. He had a big block on Will Barton less than a minute later.
7. Zach LaVine hit a midrange jumper over Michael Porter Jr. soon after to put the Bulls ahead 112-108. But, up 114-111 with 27 seconds left, Facundo Campazzo stripped LaVine to give the Nuggets an extra possession, which they used to pull within 114-113. Two made LaVine free throws later, Jamal Murray tied the contest at the buzzer with a corner 3-pointer on the back end of a clutch bit of two-man game with Nikola Jokić. Thad Young switched onto Murray and defended him capably for a while, but he said after the game a glance at the game clock allowed Murray the second he needed to separate.
8. The Bulls did well on Nikola Jokić early. He didn't notch a point or assist until the 3:37 mark of the first quarter. At halftime, he had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 1 assist, but you can live with that from an MVP candidate. But he took over to the tune of 15 points and 5 assists between the fourth quarter and overtime, bulldozing and put-backing the Bulls to defeat.
9. Murray was outrageously clutch as well. The buzzer-beating 3, and a lay-in the possession before, were five of his 15 fourth-quarter points. He poured in an extra 7 in overtime. His final two points -- a leaning jumper that put the Nuggets ahead 131-127 with 10 seconds to play in overtime -- proved the dagger.
Jokić and Murray notched 34 points each and scored for 37 of their 50 points between the fourth quarter and overtime.
10. The Nuggets, as a team, shot 60.6 percent (6-for-12 from 3-point range) between the fourth quarter and overtime. The Bulls couldn't get a stop. The Nuggets opened overtime on a devastating 9-0 run that the Bulls answered with a late surge. But it ultimately fell short.
11. LaVine scored 9 points in overtime to push his total for the game to 32. He patted Murray on the back after the latter's game-icing leaner.
12. Thad Young exited the game midway through the third quarter with four personal fouls, limiting him to just 28 minutes on the night. He made winning play after winning play in his closing stint and finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. But that split-second lapse while guarding Murray was costly.
13. Lauri Markkanen (10 points, 2 rebounds, 4-for-11 shooting) was mostly missing for the last three minutes of regulation and all of overtime. Donovan closed Porter over him. Arcidiacono even got some overtime ticks. The 2 rebounds is especially damning after Markkanen emphasized a desire to attack the glass better and play more physical after morning shootaround.
14. Tomáš Satoranský committed two offensive fouls in the game and led White astray with a pass on a crucial step-out-of-bounds turnover late in the fourth. Satoranský had four cough-ups total.
15. The Bulls move to 5-16 against teams currently at or above .500. They move to 10-14 in games that are within a five-point or less margin with five minutes or less to play.
16. Solid scoring distribution, faciliatory offense (the Bulls finished with 32 assists) and good early-game defense are footnotes.
17. Garrett Temple missed his fourth straight game with an ankle sprain, though Billy Donovan said pregame he's done some more on-court work of late. Chandler Hutchison, who has been out since Feb. 6 for personal reasons, is also moving closer to a return, per Donovan.
Next up for the Bulls: At the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.