Well, things started out well in the Bulls (30-30) quest to win their fifth straight game and move into a tie with the Indiana Pacers for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Instead, we saw a beatdown at the hands of the Denver Nuggets (27-33) in the second half on Tuesday night as fans found out what this team looks like when Jimmy Butler has an off night. The result, a humbling 125-107 defeat at the United Center with the Nuggets outscoring the Bulls 69-48 in the second half.
Things didn’t start off terribly for the suddenly hot Bulls. Bobby Portis was hitting some shots, and the Bulls were dominating the offensive glass securing 10 offensive boards compared to the Nuggets one in the first half. While they never pulled away, the Bulls largely controlled the play in the first two stanzas with the score sitting at 59-56 in their favor. In reality, the Bulls should have had a larger lead at this point in the game. The Bulls showed signs of pulling away in this one but either a poor turnover or a clutch Denver three would pull them back within reach. Eventually this would come back to haunt the Bulls as the play shift decidedly in the final two frames of this one.
The Nuggets had balanced scoring in this one, with seven players scoring at least 12 points, but it was the play of Danilo Gallinari and Nikola Jokic that were the difference in the second half. Jokic kickstarted things doing it all by himself. Between putting back his own offensive rebounds, hitting un-assisted outside jumpers, or setting up his teammates for easy layups, the Nuggets Nikola willed his team back in front in the third quarter. Once Jokic had put the Nuggets in front, Gallinari ensured they would stay there. Danilo hit three huge long-balls in the second half and kept the Bulls defense of-balance on his way to a game high 22 points on 7/10 shooting (3/4 from deep).
On the other end of the floor, the off-ball movement was nonexistent. There was a lot of one-on-one play and very few screens to create any type of separation from the defense. There was poor shot selection, little communication, and for once, the Bulls didn’t have Jimmy Butler to bail them out. Butler ended with a pedestrian line of 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also managed to make just three of his 13 shots from the field on the night. You could tell he wasn’t confident in his shot from the get go passing up open jumpers he would normally put up without hesitation.
Shockingly, the offensive hero on the night was Rajon Rondo, although he still managed a +/- of -15 on the night. But Rondo was miraculously hitting jumpers pretty consistently throughout the night shooting 8/15 from the field and even knocking down a trey. However, Rondo is long past the point of being able to carry on offense on his own, and this night received very little help. Wade ended up with a quiet 19 points, but no one else on the Bulls ended up with more than 12 points (Bobby Portis).
We all knew the Bulls winning streak wasn’t going to last forever. However, with a chance to push that streak to five at home against the Nuggets on two days rest, you expect better than this. The offense was stale, the defense showed no ability to adapt as they continuously went under screens despite Denver’s hot shooting, and no one stepped up to cover Jimmy’s off night. There were flashes of good, such as Bobby Portis finding his stroke and Cristiano Felicio
bringing his energy to go a perfect four of four from the floor. But there were too many negatives to really enjoy those, whether it was Cameron Payne going 2/10 from the field, or Portis continuing to struggle on the defensive ends to stay in front of his man or grab a rebound in traffic.
Next Up: The TNT Bulls are back to take on The Beatles, err, the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at the UC probably sans Kevin Durant after his injury last night.