On a night when Derrick Rose hit a clutch jumper for the New York Knicks, the Bulls had a chance to create their own late-game magic Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets. They trailed by two with 9.5 seconds left and chose to go for the win. They got the open 3-point opportunity they wanted, but the ball ended up in the hands of Isaiah Canaan, who shot 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. So you can guess he missed and thus, the Bulls lost 110-107.
The Bulls built up a 12-point lead at the end of the first quarter, which provided the beginning of an unprecedented 24-0 Nuggets run. After that, despite tying it numerous times, the Bulls only held the lead again for the first part of the third quarter. Not helping was the Nuggets’ bench outscoring the Bulls’ 61-13. Rookie Jamal Murray was the ringleader with 24 points and DePaul product Wilson Chandler chipped in by scoring 16.
All five starters reached double figures for the second time this season and on this road trip. Jimmy Butler, continuing his assault on opposing defenses, scored 35 and to boot, came within two rebounds of a double-double. Dwayne Wade did his usual thing by pouring in 22. Taj Gibson completed the double-double with 12 and 10 boards and Robin Lopez blocked six shots. These four starters do what’s expected of them nightly and the Bulls should keep letting them decide games with their play and smarts.
The same can’t be said for Rajon Rondo, whom the Bulls still think can be lightning in a bottle when he’s really and unfairly playing minutes that should be reserved for Jerian Grant, who saw no action in this game. Don’t let those 13 points and 11 assists fool you. His total lack of defensive awareness gave Denver plenty of open shots that went in and ultimately helped decide the game. If that wasn’t enough, he played poor offense down the stretch with a sloppy turnover and questionable shot selection.
Though the Bulls shouldn’t be expected to hold big early leads every night, it’s always tougher to take when you know a close game could have gone your way. While the offense has improved greatly from a year ago, it can’t come at the expense of the defense, which has been average for the most part, but let the team down when it was needed most. They have to be smart at the end of games too, which they weren’t here. Even if Canaan has a long ball in his arsenal, he clearly didn’t have it tonight, so he needs to cede to Butler or Wade on that last shot, though it could be argued no Doug McDermott was problematic in that spot.
A day after partaking in Thanksgiving activities, the Bulls will conclude their final circus trip on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers. This will be their first look at Joel Embiid, who’s finally healthy and making the most of his play. He’s a perfect candidate to make the Bulls look foolish for not taking a putrid opponent seriously. Fortunately, that hasn’t been a problem this year as it has before, so maybe, it’s just a paranoid thought.