Circus Trip: Nuggets 98, Bulls 97

Heartbreaking loss.

It shouldn’t have been a heartbreaker. It should have been a hope-lifter. After all, without Derrick Rose — who missed the game with a neck injury — it looked like the Bulls were going to get blown right out of the Pepsi Center…especially after the Nuggets built a 19-point third quarter lead.

But remember that “pure defiance” I was talking about after Chicago’s comeback win over the Suns? Apparently, it exists even when the team’s All-Star point guard isn’t able to suit up. Against all odds, the Bulls came back behind:

C.J. Watson (a game-high 33 points, 11-for-22 from the field, 2-for-4 from downtown, 9-for-12 from the line), who did his best Rose impression in the fourth by going on a personal 6-0 run to turn a 94-91 deficit into a 97-94 lead with 30 seconds left. Watson was aggressive and determined — hence the 12 free throw attempts — and played an absolutely big-time game.

Luol Deng (24 points, 9-for-17 from the field, 6-for-7 from the line, 11 rebounds), who refused to back down and in fact outplayed Carmelo Anthony (22 points, 7-for-18, 8 rebounds) despite the final four seconds of the game. Deng attacked the basket and was 6-for-7 at the rim. The only thing he didn’t do was hit a three…going 0-for-4 from downtown.

Joakim Noah (17 points, 16 rebounds, a team-high 4 assists), who simply will not stop fighting.

The effort was phenomenal.

I mean, no Rose, no Carlos Boozer, a disappearing act by Taj Gibson (12 minutes, 0-for-3, zero points, zero rebounds) and an ice-cold shooting night by Kyle Korver (2-for-12 from the field and 1-for-6 on threes). A Friday night on the road near the end of the dreaded circus trip.

And despite all that, the Bulls had a three-point lead with half a minute to go. That’s when things fell apart.

It started when Noah got called for a tough foul against ‘Melo with 24 seconds left. Anthony knocked down both freebies to make it 97-96. Tom Thibodeau called timeout and subbed in Kyle Korver for Omer Asik and John Lucas for Ronnie Brewer. After all, with only 24 ticks left on the clock, the Nuggets were going to have to foul.

I have to admit, my blood went a little cold when Lucas was put into the game. After all, the dude was signed earlier that day because of Rose’s injury. Sure, in theory, a guy like that has to be ready for anything. But to me, you never want to bring some kid in ice cold and put him in a position to have to make clutch free throws on the road. That’s practically setting him up to fail.

Sure enough, the Nuggets chased the Bulls around for nearly 12 seconds until the ball ended up in Lucas’ hands. Arron Afflalo fouled him. Lucas went to the line and bricked both shots.

Still, after Denver coach George Karl called a 20-second timeout, Chicago’s defense managed to forced Anthony into a terrible shot that whiffed on everything. Unfortunately, nobody on the Bulls got control of the ball. It went out of bounds and was awarded to the Nuggets with four seconds left.

Now, with so little time, I felt like the obvious play was going to be an inbounds pass to ‘Melo for a jump shot. There just wasn’t any time for anything else. I wanted to see the Bulls deny the pass to Anthony or, failing that, throw a quick double team at him the instant he touched it.

Instead, Carmelo was allowed to catch the ball. One-on-one, he got Deng to back up on a little stutter dribble and then lauched a jumper from 23 feet out…

…game over.

Said Thibs: “We wanted to play him, take his air space away and make him shoot over the top, but he made a big shot. The big problem was not coming up with the loose ball.”

Added ‘Melo: “Whether he contested it or not, whether he got a hand in my face or not, once I get a good look at the rim, I don’t really think there’s nothing nobody can do.”

Concluded Deng: “He just hit a tough shot. This hurts, but we have to bounce right back.”

And hopefully they will tonight in Sacramento.

Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

, , ,

13 Responses to Circus Trip: Nuggets 98, Bulls 97

    Nicky C November 27, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Said my buddy Mark: “John Lucas shot three bricks…2 at the rim, and one out of his shorts…did Thibs outsource that decision to VDN?”

    inkybreath November 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    I am so angry at Thibs right now. I woke up still thinking about it. Listen, I believe the players should be ready to make a jump shot, a layup and a free-throw, but I cannot abide by Lucas being in the game in that spot. If I were Bogans or Brewer, I would be f**king insulted, no less.

    This is one of the few things that I have had issue with, in regards to coaching, but it was big. This was more than one game. This was a huge team statement game and HE WASTED IT.

    I need to meditate.

  3. Chris F November 27, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    It is bad enough that the guy they pulled off the street that very morning was shooting those FTs while making a deer in headlights look cool and collected in comparison, but I am just as mad at Kyle Korver as I am Thibs or poor John Lucas. He’s our best FT shooter, and had the ball in his hands, instead of just taking the foul to go up 3, he passes it away. If we just took the foul instead of playing keep away, maybe this turns out different. Very disappointing loss considering the effort our boys showed without Rose and with an ineffective Gibson.

    Tony C. November 27, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    No question that is was a mistake. Hell – it was a mistake to have had Lucas pass the ball in, even though he completed the pass.

    It was example of why statistics never tell the whole story. Common sense should have dictated that a warm confident 70% shooter (e.g. Noah) would have been preferable to Lucas.

    Thibs made a mistake. We all do. I expect him to learn from it, and to continue to improve as the season unfolds.

    With regards to the importance of the mistake, I disagree with inkybreath. The fact that the Bulls were arguably the better team under the circumstances trumps the loss. It is clear that when the Bulls are at full strength, and have had time to gel, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

    The defining characteristic of this team – determination – was on clear display last night, and they lost nothing in defeat.

  5. Anonymous November 27, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    You all need to quit whining!!! A free throw shooting contest on the Bulls team is going to come down to Korver and Lucas. He should have been on the floor and Thibs did the right thing. Bogans/Brewer should not be upset and neither should any fans. Asik has been getting all the back up center minutes right? If you need a back up big on the floor because they are going to intentionally foul are you putting him or Kurt Thomas in the game?

    inkybreath November 27, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    Not sure, Tony.

    In the end run, we are battling Miami, Orlando, Boston and Atlanta and with Boozy’s injury, we are going to need every one of these kind of games (in my opinion).

    Again, it was highlighted by such an odd player move by the coach. That just altered the structure of the game and took it out of the hands of the players that had brought the game to such a winning chance.

    1c1cle November 27, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Watson scoring 30+ points. Is the denver defense that bad? (probably, yea.)

    The last defensive play for da bulls is perplexing. Watson should have doubled teamed Melo. Deng should have defended as if Melo could not/would notshould drive. The bulls allowed Melo to get a good shot.

    Very unfortunate situation with Lucas. It was great to give the guy some time on the court. But, objectively, it was the wrong decision to have the guy on the court at the end of the game. That mistake is on the coaching staff. I am not surprised the player missed both free throws. I would give him some playing time tonight.

    @ a record of 3-3, the circus trip has been very successful. The bulls won some tough ones. Let’s bring it all back home tonight. There are some tough games these next 2 weeks. (OKC, BOS, ORL)

    Enigmatik November 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    I’m very proud by the effort that the team put in with Rose being sidelined. They fought hard and major props to go to CJ for stepping up when called upon.

    That being said, this game was lost by the coach. There’s no way on earth John Lucas should have been on the court in that situation. Yeah, he should have been able to make one of those 2, but he shouldn’t have been put in that position having been with the team for less than 24 hours. I could see Thibs putting anyone else in there, hell why not Scal? But to put a guy in that situation who was literally sitting at Wing Stop earlier in the day when he got the call…that’s just ridiculous.

    And yes the other players on the court share some blame in that situation; Deng/Korver should have been the ones to shoot the freebies at the end instead of passing it back to Lucas…

    I HATE to see a game given away like that. Oh well. Here’s hoping the road trip can end on a positive note by thumping a Sacramento team that is absolutely terrible.

    Scottie Pimpin November 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers. and Free throw shooting, along with 3rd quarter meltdowns are killing the Bullies right now.

    the only beef i have with Thibs is not using JJ enough. sure he gets lost out there sometimes, but you can use his athletism and toughness in spurts to help boost up some energy out there.

    i dont know why we are so desperate for a back up floor general, we already have one, and his name is Coach Thibs !

    Adam November 28, 2010 at 12:29 am #

    Anyone think that Carmelo traveled before his game winner?

    zillaa November 28, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    Adam, yes he did! Normally I’d do my normal whining about officials here, but considering how winnable the game was before that shot, I’ll give the refs a break. But on the topic of traveling, that is the only kind of travel called anymore, and they call that on big men about 5 times in any game. Maybe sometime soon (maybe in the next 5 years?) Rose will be able to get away with it….crap I’m whining.

    zillaa November 28, 2010 at 12:49 am #

    Now that I think about it, what is with every team we play seemingly walking in and shooting lights out from the opening tip. Anyone have any stats on how many times the Bulls have “allowed” a team to shoot 60%+ in the first quarter?

    BoppinBob November 28, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    Ya know, this is one of eighty-two games. No coach is perfect and no player is perfect. Thibs and Lucas should grow from that experience. The Bulls grew from this experience.

    Let’s remember, without Rose and Boozer who thought the Bulls had a chance to win? Apparently the Bulls players thought they had a chance and almost pulled it out. This is only going to help the confidence of the players.

    It seems that Gibson might not be ready to return. Hopefully he will do better against the Kings.

    I have said all along that CJ is a scoring PG out of the mold of Rose, which is why the Bulls wanted him. With Rose out, CJ allowed the Bulls to stay in character and play the same game as if Rose was in there. It worked last night and the Bulls almost pulled off an improbable win.

    I am getting very excited about these Bulls.

Designed by Anthony Bain