DENVER — They never make it easy for themselves, through their own actions or unfortunate circumstances, but the Bulls continue to be utterly confounding.
This time, they were joined by the scoring crew, which might have changed the entire complexion of the game with some questionable scorekeeping in the fourth quarter.
Every emotion was felt, as the Nuggets came back from an 18-point deficit to outscore the Bulls, 42-21, in the fourth, winning, 115-110, at the Pepsi Center.
That is, if the scorekeepers are to be believed, as they missed a Derrick Rose basket and later might have missed a Doug McDermott layup in the fourth when the Nuggets were charging.
“Not until the coaches got into it,” said Rose when asked if he knew about the discrepancy. “But this always happens to me or something, man. Always something. But it is what it is, and they fixed it.”
On the official scoresheet, it looks as if the score wasn’t fixed for Rose, but the league claims it went to the replay center in New York to correct the issue.
Rose scored 30 with nine rebounds and eight assists and McDermott scored 15 off the bench, but offense wasn’t the problem, no matter the score.
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It doesn’t take second place to Jimmy Butler injuring his left knee late in the second quarter on a drive to the basket, but it added a layer of bizarre to a wild night. Butler scored 19 in 18 minutes before going down, adding to the lot of Bulls out with injury as Pau Gasol sat out with a sprained left hand and Cameron Bairstow started in his place.
Whether it was the lack of healthy bodies, or the Bulls’ continued inability to handle runs or small bursts of prosperity, the Nuggets took the game from the Bulls in the last 12 minutes — after a third quarter that saw the home team look dead to rights when the Bulls took an 18-point lead.
Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari scored 33, including an easy jumper over Tony Snell with 52 seconds left to give the Nuggets their first lead of the second half. The 16-point lead at the start of the fourth was down to four with 7:03 left, with the Nuggets hitting a barrage of triples — not unlike the Bulls’ performance from deep against the Kings two nights ago.
“They came out and got the momentum right away in the fourth, we let them back in with some confidence, a couple turnovers led to runouts, then they got some 3s,” Hoiberg said. “Then they got confident.”
And the Bulls, while not completely wilting with the pressure, made crucial mistakes when they could’ve turned the tide, capped off by Kenneth Faried outworking Taj Gibson for an offensive rebound and score after Emmanuel Mudiay missed the second of two free throws, with the Bulls trailing by two.
“They got the momentum, got the crowd into it and finished it,” Hoiberg said. “Then defensively we missed some assignments late that allowed them to seal it.”
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It was a role reversal from the third when the Bulls took control of the game and looked to be on their way to their second straight win, before old demons emerged from the closet.
“We did some really good things to get that lead,” Hoiberg said. “Guys went out in the third quarter and nobody really knowing what the prognosis was with Jimmy, and those guys went out and battled, got us the lead. We were in complete attack mode and completely took over the momentum of the game. I did see heads hanging, walking down the floor, lost the attack, lost what got us the lead.”
And when the Nuggets smelled blood, they kept attacking, with Gallinari and Will Barton providing the necessary energy.
“No defense and no communication,” Rose said. “They were pushing the ball and just playing the up-tempo pace of basketball, just trying to get back into the game, and we didn’t communicate the way we're supposed to.’’
Regardless of how long this will hurt on a weird road trip that just got weirder, the prevailing thought from all sides is, “What happened?”