The short-handed Bulls finally met their match Monday night, as the deep, dangerous and talented Nuggets came into the United Center and absolutely ran them out of the United Center with a second-half blitz that led to a 108-91 victory.
The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the team with the NBAs best record, a squad that had played with fire in recent outings and didnt come up with the necessary energy to subdue one of the leagues top transition teams.
Three consecutive Carlos Boozer (14 points, seven rebounds) jumpers to begin the contest, followed by a Ronnie Brewer steal and transition dunk propelled the Bulls (40-11) to an 8-0 lead, but it wouldnt last long.
Denver (27-23) mounted a swift comeback, led almost exclusively by the starting backcourt of shooting guard Arron Afflalo (22 points) and point guard Ty Lawson, (27 points, nine assists) to quickly climb back into the contest.
C.J. Watson (17 points, 3-for-4 three-point shooting, eight assists), starting at point guard as Derrick Rose missed his seventh consecutive game with a strained right groin, became the Bulls offensive focal point, as both a scorer and playmaker, but it wasnt enough to slow down the Nuggets potent transition attack, which gained steam with veteran sixth man Al Harrington (17 points) in the game.
After weathering the storm and seeing the visitors overtake them, the hosts, buoyed the presence of backup center Omer Asik, fought back to finish the opening quarter with a 27-25 advantage.
The outset of the second period saw the Bench Mob, led by fan favorite John Lucas IIIs (17 points, 5-for-8 three-point shooting) scoring prowess and Kyle Korvers (14 points, 4-for-4 three-point shooting) outside marksmanship, extended the Bulls winning margin.
Denver countered with Harrington and the playmaking of veteran point guard Andre Miller (12 points, 10 assists), and once again made it a close-knit affair.
Korvers torrid shooting and the inside-outside game of Boozer, inserted back into the game midway through the quarter, were what the Bulls hung their hat on, but with Lawsons speed, Millers savvy and JaVale McGees defensive presence as equalizers, their guests again surged in front.
At the intermission, the home team faced a 54-52 deficit.
After the break, Denver immediately blitzed the Bulls, going on a 12-0 run to start the third quarter, as McGee and rookie Kenneth Faried wreaked havoc on the interior, giving the visitors a double-digit lead. The Nuggets fast-break simply overwhelmed the Bulls, as Lawsons open-court explosiveness was just too much to handle and armed with an array of finishers, he either converted himself or dished off for easy baskets.
Watson remained effective for the hosts, but had to sit when he picked up his fourth foul later in the period and with his teammates mostly unable to muster up enough offense to spark a comeback, the Bulls fell into a deeper hole.
At the conclusion of three periods, Denver had a comfortable 81-68 lead, as the games uneven officiating raised the ire of the home crowd.
In the final stanza, rookie swingman Jimmy Butler provided a spark in the early going and with Lucas providing his usual instant-offense contributions; it appeared as if the hosts would make one of their patented dramatic comebacks.
However, the Nuggets proved to be rude guests, and extended the lead with their depth, balance and overall talent, featuring the likes of Afflalo, Harrington, Lawson and Miller all making an impact.
Atypical to what occurs in most Bulls games, the hosts defense failed them, as they couldnt stop Denver in transition or prevent the visitors accuracy from deep range and uncharacteristically watched the deficit balloon as time went on, sending a good number of fans to the exits much earlier than usual.
Despite the Bulls shooting 13-for-20 from behind the arc, the Nuggets put the game far out of reach with flurry after flurry, demoralizing their normally defensively-sound hosts until the final buzzer mercifully ended the rare home loss.