Bulls suffer close loss to Nuggets, 111-110

The Bulls experienced a Rocky Mountain low Thursday despite one of their best efforts of the season with a devastating 111-110 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

The Bulls allowed a driving score by Will Barton with seconds left after it looked like Kris Dunn had won the game with a driving layup. The Bulls couldn’t get off a shot as the clock expired.

It was the Bulls’ seventh consecutive loss as they fell to 3-16. The Nuggets are 12-9.

The Bulls got 20 points each from Robin Lopez and Lauri Markkanen and 19 points from Dunn on nine of 11 shooting. Justin Holiday added 16 points.

The Bulls led by 18 points in the first quarter and then looked like they’d come back to steal the win after trailing 101-97 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Bulls had their best first quarter of the season, not only erasing a recent legacy of slow starts but in scoring the most points in the first quarter in five years with a 39-30 first quarter lead. The Bulls rocketed to a 24-8 start behind the driving scores of Dunn and with an awakened Markkanen. Then Holiday added a pair of threes to the party. That came after the Nuggets shot themselves back within 29-24 on Barton with threes off the bench. The Bulls were 16 of 24 shooting in the first quarter with 22 inside points. Holiday had 11 and three other starters had eight points each. The Bulls, at least initially, didn’t let the lead sip to start the second quarter as a Denzel Valentine three put the Bulls ahead 47-34 four minutes into the second quarter. The Bulls continued to shoot well, Dunn with a three, Lopez with clever inside play and even connecting with a lob to Markkanen for a dunk. But Denver began to find space inside and pulled within 60-52 with 2:37 left in the first half on a Nikola Jokic spin past Markkanen for his first basket. Jokic would leave later in the half after suffering a sprained ankle. The Bulls went on to shoot 64.3 percent in the first half and match their season best with 68 first half points, established against the Cavaliers. But Holiday could not harness Barton, who finished the half with 22 points on nine of 11 shooting. Holiday led the Bulls at half with 14. The Nuggets closing the half with a 19-12 edge outmaneuvered the Bulls for loose balls and offensive rebounds in that sequence.

And then it was the start of the third quarter blahs again as the Nuggets were hustling and the Bulls weren’t quite as much. Denver ran off a 9-2 start, thus forcing Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg into that first quarter timeout he abhors. Jokic would not return for the second half as the Nuggets came out with a smaller lineup also featuring high scorer Barton starting. The Nuggets tied it at 74 with 7:27 left in the third and took their first lead since 2-0 moments later. Barton made a trio of late threes, but with threes from Paul Zipser and Jerian Grant the Bulls led 92-91 going into the fourth quarter. The Bulls inched ahead 95-91 with Bobby Portis scoring four straight, but the Nuggets attacked the interior, forcing the Bulls into fouls as Denver went ahead 101-97 with 6:48 left in the game. The Bulls came back with a pair of Dunn scores, but also with a good defensive stretch and seven straight dry Nuggets possessions for a 104-101 Bulls lead with three minutes remaining in the game. Markkanen had a pair of tough late turnovers, but added a three over Jamal Murray on a switch for a 108-105 Bulls lead with 53.7 seconds remaining. Denver tied it at 108 with 45 seconds left when Holiday fouled Barton on a three attempt.