Bulls suffer another tough defeat, fall to Nuggets in OT

Denver's Nikola Jokic and and Jamal Murray made clutch plays to end regulation and overtime to seal the win.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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The Bulls suffered another disappointing loss, this time at the hands of the Denver Nuggets 131-127 in overtime on Friday night. Chicago entered the fourth quarter up 10 points. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting. Denver's Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray scored 34 points each as both made clutch keys down the stretch to push the game into overtime and secure the win. The Bulls (18-21) look to get right in Detroit when they take on the Pistons (12-29) on Sunday night.

The Ripley's Believe it or Not museum is known worldwide for it's bizarre, baffling and incomprehensible oddities, like the shrunken heads, the human pin cushion and the Bulls losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Friday's 131-127 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets.

This time after another near perfect first three quarters and 13-point lead with about seven minutes left in the game, it was a pass to a player standing out of bounds, a turnover dribbling out of the backcourt with 27 seconds left and a three-point lead, and then still with a three-point lead with less than a second left flying past a three-point shooter. Who then tied the game.

So the museum may even be receiving a few more items, like Bulls coach Billy Donovan's exploding head after he and his players shrunk at the worst time and died by a thousand cuts. And screens, turnovers and fouls. And some very worrisome issues for the 18-22 Bulls.

"We play like a self fulfilling prophesy," an agitated Donovan said afterward, firing blame in all directions, including at himself. "The amount of things we had to do to put them in position to win the game is mind boggling. It's a self fulfilling prophesy. ‘Here we go again, uh oh.' We have to find a way to make the necessary plays and it wasn't one play; it was a lot of plays. We've got to be able to make winning plays at winning time.

Billy Donovan answered questions following Chicago's tough loss to Denver on Friday night.

"I don't want to say it's in their head, not in their head. This is the team's challenge to take another step," said Donovan. "We can blame it on a lot of things, youth, inexperience, other stuff. I don't buy it. I'm not singling them out as I am throwing myself in there with them. We all need to do a better job when those moments come. Seven minutes up double digits. ‘OK, what are the things that are going to put you in a position to give up a lead? Fouling, running over screens, turning the ball over, losing the ball, stepping out of bounds, passing into illegal screens.' You just have to know, ‘I can't do those things.'

"It's a lot of things and there are veteran guys out there too, doing it," said Donovan. "It's the whole team. It kills me for them. These guys played their hearts out for 42, 43 minutes. It's not good enough. My heart bleeds for them."

It's as emotional as the stoic Donovan has been all season, acknowledging he lashed out in some huddles. Though he felt no more frustrated than Zach LaVine, who tried desperately to overcome a nine-point overtime deficit with nine of the team's 11 overtime points among his 32. The Nuggets, considered by many a title challenger, escaped with one last Jamal Murray baseline jumper with 10.9 seconds left for a four-point lead in overtime. He and Nikola Jokic after slow starts in which they were outplayed by LaVine and even Otto Porter Jr. at times, each scored 34 points. Porter had probably his second best game of the season with 22 points on nine of 13 shooting and seven straight fourth quarter points that looked like it was going to save the Bulls.

"When OP came back in he made a couple shots and we kind of got brought back to life," said Donovan, the Bulls with a seemingly certain 114-108 lead with 45.6 seconds left in regulation. "But then we didn't make enough plays coming down the stretch."

Otto Porter Jr

Otto Porter Jr. had one of his best games of the season, scoring 22 points off the bench.

Denver did, a Jokic three to cut the Bulls lead to 114-111. Then LaVine as stripped at center court by Facundo Campazzo (their Ryan Arcidiacono). The Nuggets tortured the Bulls with Jokic and Murray's two-player game. But the Bulls without a true big man also were closing with Thad Young on Jokic. Jokic screened off LaVine and Murray then made a floater over Young without anyone coming to help. That made it 114-113 Bulls with 18.3 seconds left. Denver was unable to trap so they fouled LaVine, who made both for a 116-113 Bulls lead with 16 seconds left.

With so much time left, Donovan said he didn't want to foul. The conventional philosophy in the NBA among teams that do foul with a three-point lead is to wait for the last five or six seconds. There was too much time with 16 seconds with the frequency of missed free throws and jump balls. Then if you are going to foul, a player with the ball needs to be facing away because referees will generally allow three free throws if you get fouled and then launch a shot. So Jokic dribbled up with the Bulls defending the three-point line. The plan was to let them shoot inside for two.

Murray dribbled down the clock defended by Young again on a switch as Jokic went to the right corner and LaVine followed. With about five seconds left, Murray passed to Jokic coming to the middle from the right corner. Murray replaced Jokic in the right corner. Jokic then drove to the basket with LaVine on him. Young drifted to help, leaving Murray open in the right corner. Jokic stopped and passed to Murray. Young ran back at him. Murray faked, Young going past him. Murray then stepped right and—you knew it was coming—made the three to tie with .04 left. Without a timeout it was overtime.

Denver stunned the Bulls with nine straight points to start overtime before Young made a running hook and LaVine scored nine straight Bulls points. Denver even tried to help with a technical foul when Will Barton got frustrated by Arcidiacono's defense and pushed him away. But the Bulls couldn't get a Jokic or Murray miss in the last minute.

"They've worked hard," Donovan of the Bulls. "They're putting themselves in position. We've played really good basketball. The last two games are against teams in the playoffs. But you know what? Jokic and Murray found a way to get their team over the hump. Bottom line."

Whether this one leaves a mark probably is the remaining question. It sure hurt as the Bulls, once again, were the better team for most of the game, playing smarter and sharper, more unselfishly and efficiently. The Bulls did commit 18 turnovers that Denver turned into 32 points, so talk about efficiency. The rebounding was about even, though Denver led 18-8 on second chance points.

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine shoots over Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray against the Nuggets.

Wendell Carter Jr. had a good start against Jokic with a drop step dunk and a three as the Bulls started 24-13. But he and Lauri Markkanen didn't play in the overtime. Markkanen had two points in the second half on one of five shooting and Carter was scoreless in the second half on zero of three shooting. Patrick Williams was again quiet and didn't play in the fourth quarter or overtime with Porter's clutch shooting. Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Coby White had 17 points and some big fourth quarter shots. But he also was standing out of bounds for that pass from Tomas Satoransky, forced up some quick shots after his crucial run and fouled a three point shooter and committed a flagrant foul. But there was plenty of blame to go around with Satoransky committing a pair of offensive fouls on screens, Young with that flyby on the tying three and a late turnover of his own that enabled the Nuggets to take their first lead at 108-107 since 7-6.

It wasn't much later that Donovan said he lit into the players in a timeout.

"I just saw the body language coming back. I didn't like it," Donovan said. "Shoulders down, the head down. You can't be a great competitor doing that. I said, ‘We need winning plays. Go win the game.'

"We had control of the game with some veteran guys in there," said Donovan. "We have a throw up the sideline to Coby and he's out of bounds, so there's no reason to make that pass. We get stripped in the backcourt (LaVine), we end up coming off a three-point shooter (Young). It was everybody, and I throw myself in there with them. It just is if they want to be a good team they have to find ways to close games out.

"It doesn't need to be mistake-free basketball, but it can't be self-inflicted wounds on a regular basis," said Donovan. "You see with Jokic and Murray. They're unfazed. They just ball. They just play. They know exactly what they want to do and what they've got to get done. I'm trying to be as honest as I possibly can by seeing what I see. Maybe I'll watch some film and feel a little bit differently."

Probably not, though perhaps Donovan will be singing some Tomorrow from Annie.

The sun'll come out
Tomorrow
So you gotta hang on
'Til tomorrow
Come what may

It's just so darn... disappointing.

Because they have been playing a lot better. Just as it was against the Spurs Wednesday, the Bulls took every shot and raised them a shot. The Bulls shot better, they moved the ball more swiftly, defended ambitiously and earnestly. The Nuggets 20 first quarter points was among their season lows, 30-20 Bulls after one.

Donovan substituted more frequently to limit minutes for the veterans and to respond to the lighter mountain altitude. The Bulls bench finished 60-24.

The Bulls hadn't won in Denver since 2006, but this seemed the time. The Bulls thwarted every Nuggets run, leading 55-47 at halftime with eight of 16 threes. LaVine made three more in the third, including back to back for a 72-60 lead and the Bulls led 89-81 after three quarters. Murray had 12 points on three of seven shooting through three quarters as he couldn't shake LaVine's defense.

Then White got white hot, a pair of threes and a driving layup as the Bulls took hold of the game—it seemed—with a 103-89 lead with eight minutes left.

Thad Young

Thad Young a double-double, scoring 11 points, grabbing ten rebounds, in addition to having six assists.

"It's a frustrating process for all of us because we play so hard and we play so good for long spurts and long periods of time," said Young. "It's like in the fourth quarter we start to go in self-destruct mode. I think we get into a frenzy and get a little frantic when guys start putting a little pressure on us as opposed to just keeping our poise throughout the course of that fourth quarter. We've got to stop that."

Or turn into a portrait of Albert Einstein made only of toast. Now that would be something to see once you're done with the Bulls pratfalls.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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