Bulls struggle to execute down the stretch in loss to Nuggets

Bulls struggle to execute down the stretch in loss to Nuggets

DENVER—The Bulls started a fire they couldn’t put out in Denver, as something crazy always seems to happen to add to a ridiculous streak of futility that with Tuesday’s 110-107 loss has reached ten.

Whether it was the bench literally giving away 12 minutes of solid, businesslike play in the span of three minutes, or the last-second play call Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is holding himself accountable for, the Bulls left Denver feeling like they let another get away on the road on what could’ve been a wildly successful circus trip.

With the Bulls trailing by two and Jimmy Butler having recently tied the game with a triple, the Nuggets were ready for him as the Bulls smartly wanted to end the game as opposed to sending it to overtime on the road.

But the Nuggets covered Butler’s slip to the basket with Kenneth Faried, and it left reserve guard Isaiah Canaan with a leaning triple, fading to his left and predictably, it came up short with 4.9 seconds left.

“We got the ball to Sip (Canaan), he shot it,” said Butler, who scored 35 points with eight rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes. “It’s part of the game. If he would’ve made it, we wouldn’t be talking about it.”

But before the dramatic final minutes, there was disaster in the second quarter, as the much-maligned Bulls bench couldn’t keep a 14-point lead, allowing the Nuggets to go on a 22-0 run that brought a dead building back to life and sapped whatever energy the Bulls had in the Rocky Mountain environment.

The Nuggets, buoyed by the shooting of rookie reserve Jamal Murray, scored more points in the first four minutes of the second quarter (22) than the entire first quarter (19).

“(They) completely turned the tables on how the game was going,” Hoiberg said. “I thought our energy was good coming off a back to back in this building. We fought back and found a way to tie the game; Unfortunately we didn’t get it done.”

Timeouts couldn’t stop it, as Hoiberg tried virtually everything in his power to stem the tide. But Murray hit his first seven shots from the field as the Bulls couldn’t track him down or get a hand in his face enough to bother him.

And when he got into the lane, the smooth rookie broke down a compromised Bulls defense in a way that hasn’t been seen since their blowout loss to the Pacers in Indianapolis a couple weeks back.

Bobby Portis struggled again, along with Canaan and Nikola Mirotic, as the latter two have had their positive moments on this road trip. Portis was 0-for-3 in seven minutes and was on the floor when the Bulls got blitzed to start the second quarter.

Even without Doug McDermott, the youngsters are getting an opportunity to showcase how valuable they are to the team’s present and one wouldn’t blame Hoiberg if he lost faith in his bench altogether, even though he insists it’s not the case.

“In those moments you have to learn to slow down, you have to get to your package and sets to get the floor balanced,” said Dwyane Wade, who was on the floor as the one veteran with the youngsters during the run.

“It wasn’t guys losing confidence. It was just everyone speeding up on the play and in those moments, we have to continue to play together.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Wade scored 22 after missing Sunday’s game in Los Angeles due to rest, with all five Bulls scoring in double figures. Rajon Rondo scored 13 with 11 rebounds and eight assists but virtually everybody struggled with the Nuggets’ aggressiveness, led by Murray, who had a team-high 24 points.

Wilson Chandler scored 16 and Danilo Gallinari scored 15 on six of nine shooting.

Even when the starters returned, the Nuggets’ confidence was up and rising through the rest of the game and the Bulls found themselves in an unexpected dogfight.

They showed some resiliency to match the Nuggets, with Robin Lopez sending back multiple shots at the rim with six blocks—including three in the final quarter and had another one taken away because he grazed Will Barton with less than a minute left.

Butler thought he drew a charge on Emmanuel Mudiay but there was no call as the Nuggets called a timeout to regroup with 19.6 seconds left, right after drawing contact on a drive that resulted in a missed runner that could’ve given the Bulls a lead.

“If I run over someone like that I think I would get called for something but that’s fine,” Butler said. “We can’t talk about it now, it wasn’t a charge and I’m good. That’s why I have on pads to absorb the contact.”

But there were no pads to absorb the loss as the Bulls head back east for one more, feeling like they let two get away.

Derrick Rose's unforgettable playoff debut

Derrick Rose's unforgettable playoff debut

Derrick Rose had already established himself as the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award when the 2009 NBA playoffs opened on April 18th in Boston. The defending champion Celtics were expected to make short work of the Bulls, who earned the #7 seed with a 41-41 record under 1st year coach Vinny Del Negro.

While the game was nationally televised, Kendall Gill, Stacey King and I huddled up in one of our station’s conference rooms to watch the playoff opener and prepare for our post-game coverage on what was then Comcast SportsNet.

What we saw was one of the most electric performances of Rose’s career. He made defensive ace Rajon Rondo look like he was wearing cement sneakers, driving to the basket with that extra gear of speed few players possess.

When it was over, Rose had tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the highest scoring playoff debut in NBA history, finishing with 36 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field and a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line, leading the Bulls to an upset win over the defending champs, 105-103 in overtime. Rose also dished out 11 assists, showcasing the play-making ability that would make him one of the league’s most feared players.

Afterwards, the soft-spoken Rose downplayed his record-tying performance, saying simply, “I just thought about it like I was playing in a regular game.”

But his coach was more than impressed, Del Negro telling reporters, “He has a quiet confidence about him and he’s only going to get better. If people aren’t familiar with Derrick, then they’re not basketball fans.”

Rondo had a great offensive game for Boston, leading the Celtics with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists, but conceded that chasing the warp speed rookie had taken its toll on him physically. “I’ll be fine Monday”, Rondo said afterwards. “Just now, I’m extremely tired.”

While hosting the postgame show that afternoon, I remember being amazed at the confidence the 20 year old Rose showed in dissecting one of the league’s best defenses. His poise under pressure was one of his greatest strengths, and his ability to get to the rim and finish high difficulty shots would make even the most experienced reporter reach for superlatives.

Stacey gained a national following describing the exploits of the humble, high-flying star from Chicago, and his call of Rose’s dunk over Phoenix guard Goran Dragic is still a YouTube classic.

It really was an amazing ride covering Derrick’s 8 years as a member of the Bulls and that playoff game in Boston will always stand out as one of his career highlights. The Bulls went on to lose that 1st round series in 7 classic games, but the rest of the league was put on notice.

Derrick Rose was going to be one of the most exciting young talents the league had ever seen.

Season in Review: Ryan Arcidiacono checks all the boxes in pleasantly surprising season


Season in Review: Ryan Arcidiacono checks all the boxes in pleasantly surprising season

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison

Preseason expectations: Arcidiacono made waves in Summer League by connecting on nearly 48 percent of his 3-point attempts in five games but only played 34 minutes in five preseason games, leading many to believe he would be the odd man out with the Bulls already having Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne. He surprisingly made the team in mid-October, only for the Bulls to sign both Tyler Ulis and Shaq Harrison the following week. And yet Arcidiacono stuck on the 15-man roster, presumably as emergency depth behind Dunn and Payne.

What went right: Relatively speaking, just about everything. Arcidiacono became a focal point when Kris Dunn suffered a sprained MCL in the first week of the season. He took over the starting job from Cam Payne in early November and didn’t relinquish it until Dunn returned. Payne was eventually waived and Arcidiacono assume back-up duties before entering the starting lineup again when Zach LaVine missed five games with a sprained ankle.

Arcidiacono excelled as both a perimeter threat (38 percent from beyond the arc), an exceptional distributor with the first unit (he had nine games of five or more assists as a starter) and provided exceptional energy and hustle that enamored Jim Boylen the entire season. He was a glue guy but also a rather efficient one: his 34.3% assist rate led the team, his 54.8% effective field goal percentage was third behind Otto Porter and Robin Lopez, and he 4.23 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the NBA. He did just about everything asked of him, played multiple positions and did it end-to-end. He was accountable, too, leading the Bulls with 81 games played; he was a DNP-CD in the third game of the season and played the final 79.

What went wrong: He certainly has his limitations and his lack of size was an issue defensively. He also went through an ice-cold stretch from Nov. 30 to Feb. 22, when he shot 25.6 percent from deep over a 37-game span. He wasn’t a consistent outside threat, though his changing role in that span could have accounted for some of that. But that’s about it. Arcidiacono was reliable, versatile and played with *spirit and soul* from start to finish. His ceiling isn’t all that high, but his floor is.

The Stat: 1.9 on 45.5

Arcidiacono was lights out from beyond the arc to begin the season. From Oct. 18 to Nov. 28, he made 1.9 3-pointers per game at a 45.5 percent clip. The only other players to reach those marks in that span were Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, Danilo Gallinari, Buddy Hield, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris and Bryn Forbes. Three of those players (Curry, Hield, Harris) competed in the 3-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte.

He also shot better than 44 percent from deep over the final 23 games of the season. From Feb. 23 until April 10, he was one of 24 players to do so.

2019-20 Expectations: It’ll be a numbers game for the Bulls and Arcidiacono. His hot stretch to end the season and his consistent effort will make him a target in restricted free agency. It’s no secret the Bulls want him back but they’ve also got Kris Dunn under contract and likely will be addressing the point guard position in the draft or free agency. He could have priced himself out of Chicago.

If he returns, his expectations will be a more consistent outside shot and continued managing of the second unit. His aforementioned ceiling will keep him from adding a bunch to his game, but if he can take care of the ball and hover around 39 percent from deep all year – instead of going 45 percent to 25 percent and back to 45 percent – he’ll be a valuable piece to the bench and the perfect role player.