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.