The Bulls got off to a fast start tonight, jumping out to an 8-0 lead two minutes into the first quarter. It was all downhill from there. Aside from the first couple of minutes, the Bulls were bad, plain and simple. The Denver Nuggets came into the United Center and handed Chicago a 108-91 beat down, their most lopsided loss of the season.
The Bulls played without Derrick Rose for the seventh consecutive game, and the all-star point guard was clearly missed. Rose’s replacements, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, played well offensively (aside from Watson’s 5 turnovers). The point guards combined for 31 points while shooting 43% from the field and hitting on 7 of their 8 three point attempts.
Solid offensive performances did little to mask how mightily the point guards struggled on the defensive end. They had no answer for Denver’s floor leader Ty Lawson, who led all scorers with 27 points. Lawson’s backcourt mate, Arron Afflalo, also made a strong contribution with 22 points.
Despite being shorthanded, coach Tom Thibodeau refused to use Rose’s absence as an excuse.
“We count on the guys that are here,” Thibodeau said after the game. “We didn’t play the way we should have. Derrick had nothing to do with it.”
Lawson’s big game doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Neither Watson nor JLIII are considered defensive stalwarts around the league. The opposition’s point guards have played well against the Bulls in Rose’s absence, most notably Toronto’s Jose Calderon (20 points) and Philly’s Jrue Holiday (30 points).
The shocker was in the front court, where the Bulls typically have a sizable advantage. Not tonight. Denver controlled the paint, where they outscored the Bulls by a whopping 30 points (54-24). The Nuggets also dominated the glass, out-rebounding Chicago 45-32. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah combined for just 12 rebounds, and only one offensively. They were bullied by Denver’s less celebrated big men, Kenneth Faried, Javale McGee and Wilson Chandler. And the game’s leading rebounder? Yep, you guessed it, 5-foot 11-inch Ty Lawson, who pulled down 9 caroms.
Coach Thibodeau was obviously not pleased by his team’s performance tonight and he let it be known during the post-game press conference. One reporter asked if there were any bright spots from the 17-point loss. Thibodeau’s response: “Not that I saw.”
The Bulls clinched a playoff berth with their victory over the Toronto Raptors Saturday night and, tonight, they played like a team that had done just that. You can rest assured that coach Thibs will remind them there are still 15 games left to be played, and they’re a long way from where they want to be. If the Bulls are going to beat the Miami Heat in a best-of-seven series this spring, they’ll need every advantage they can get, which means playing out the final stretch in hopes of locking up homecourt.
On the other end, the Nuggets, who are in the thick of a serious playoff battle, seem to understand how important each and every game is. They wanted it more, and it showed. Coming in to the game, Denver was tied with the Houston Rockets for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Stealing a game on the road against the team with the best record in the NBA will go a long way in increasing the team’s confidence and building momentum for a postseason run.