It got ugly and it got ugly in a hurry as Fred Hoiberg was ready to initial for a timeout before Jamal Murray's triple found an easy home in the bottom of the net after a Bulls turnover.
The onslaught happened quick for the Denver Nuggets and the Bulls were unable to counter with a reasonable response as their defense failed them miserably in the second half of their 125-107 loss—the first sign of serious defensive slippage since the trade of Taj Gibson as their season-high four-game winning streak was snapped.
And to make matters all the more optimistic, the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers are the next two opponents to grace the United Center floor.
Jimmy Butler going three for 13 in 35 minutes definitely shouldn't be ignored, as was the Bulls inability to muster second-half offense after leading by three, but the Nuggets ran the Bulls ragged with ball movement and open threes all night.
"I haven't been in rhythm for awhile now," Butler said. "It's okay. We gotta a few more games, I'll find a rhythm and make some shots. I'm not worried about it, we got another one on Thursday."
Nikola Jokic dominated the stat sheet and the game with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a showing that had the versatile center operating as a hub, creating open shots for Danilo Gallinari (22 points) and Wilson Chandler (20 points), among others.
"They do a good job of shooting and cutting around Jokic," Hoiberg said. "Some of the 3's were contested but I agree we did not run them off the line."
And when he received too much room on the perimeter from Robin Lopez or Cristiano Felicio, he unleashed one of his three triples as the Nuggets hit 13 of them, many during the decisive third and fourth quarter run when they pulled away.
Shooting 56 percent from the field and 43 from 3, the Nuggets made easy work of the Bulls once they figured out the Bulls' early defense, putting up 103 points in the final three quarters.
"We stopped getting stops, it was either a layup or a 3," said Rajon Rondo. "We gotta run them off the line. They get paid a lot of money to shoot the ball. Those guys, we knew going into the game what the scouting report was. We didn't stick to the plan."
A 9-0 run gave the Nuggets an eight-point lead in the final minute of the third quarter led by Jokic, as all five Nuggets starters were in double figures and they were shooting well over 50 percent, quickly erasing a 68-60 Bulls lead.
The Bulls' defense was little more than indifferent in the middle two quarters, giving up 69 points. And the Nuggets' onslaught stretched to start the fourth as they took a 96-83 lead in the first 90 seconds, with their ball movement creating open shots on the perimeter.
"Our movement was terrific in the first half, we were getting the ball up the floor," Hoiberg said. "We lost all that. The shots we missed deflated us."
Hoiberg said the Bulls' slagging offense led to a porous effort on the defensive end, which is an easy way to lose against the third-best scoring offense in the NBA (110.8 points per game).
"It's easily correctable. Just guard," Butler said. "Take your matchups as if it's just you and them. If you get beat, the help is gotta be there. If we guard, we're okay."
The Bulls were surviving early with the play of Rondo, who scored 19. Dwyane Wade scored 19 but nine came in the fourth when the Nuggets all but ended things in the first few minutes of the period.
"I thought Rondo was great for us," Hoiberg said. "When he's in the game our pace just goes up a notch. He's getting guys shots, he's throwing the ball down the floor."
The Bulls' early offense was at a crawl until Rondo started running the show, as the speed quotient increased ten-fold in the first half. He hadn't been that aggressive in weeks and it was necessary with Butler having a slow start and Cameron Payne being eased into running the offense.
"Just the pick and roll. I was trying to get into the paint," Rondo said. "Our bigs did a great job setting screens for me and I was able to get into the paint to make plays for myself or my teammates."
The balance between development and winning games is certainly met at the intersection of Rondo and Payne, with Rondo being a good option for helping the Bulls maintain their playoff standing.
Payne looked unsure during his time in the first half and missed his first seven shots from the field in his home debut, only making a triple after the game had been decided.
The speed and athleticism of the Nuggets confused the Bulls throughout, as one has no idea if this is the Bulls team that will be seen for the rest of season or if this was a telling and alarming blip on the radar.