Aside from a rib injury to Jimmy Butler, just about everything went the Bulls’ way in their 117-89 win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
D.J. Augustin and Tony Snell combined for 42 of the Bulls’ 65 bench points, Joakim Noah double-doubled with 14 points and 11 rebounds and the Bulls had seven players in double figures to win their fifth straight game.
Noah scored the first six points for the Bulls, who opened the game shooting 50 percent from the field to take a 16-8 lead midway through the period. Augustin came off the bench with a pair of 3-pointers, a steal and a dish to Carlos Boozer (10 points, five rebounds) that extended the Bulls’ lead to 26-12.
Later in the quarter Butler (eight points, two rebounds, two assists) made a circus shot over his shoulder against Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov and finished the three-point play. The next possession down he hit a 3-pointer from the right corner but couldn’t get back on defense, clutching his side. He went to the locker room and was diagnosed with a rib contusion. He did not return.
Nuggets newcomer Aaron Brooks (17 points), who was traded prior to yesterday’s trade deadline from Houston, made his presence felt with a jumper on his first possession with Denver. He finished the quarter with nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, but the Bulls took a 32-19 lead behind at least six points from four different players.
The second quarter began with a rare one-on-one matchup between reserve centers Mozgov (nine points, nine rebounds) and Nazr Mohammed (six points, two rebounds). Mozgov tallied five points and Mohammed four, with the two getting wrapped up with each other on a Randy Foye jumper, needing to be separated by officials. Behind Mozgov and Foye, Denver used an 8-2 run to pull within nine, 41-32.
So with the Nuggets feeling some momentum, Tom Thibodaeu stayed with his bench unit. And that turned out to be the right call, as the Bulls responded with a 24-5 run to blow the game wide open. Augustin, Snell (20 points, three 3-pointers), Gibson (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Noah contributed all 24 points of the run, at one point making eight straight shots from the field.
Denver was able to salvage the quarter with a 9-4 run to end the first half, but the Bulls’ 69-46 lead marked their highest scoring half of the year.
Out of halftime the injury-riddled Nuggets showed what has made them one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, putting together runs of 7-0 and 9-0 to cut into the Bulls’ lead. The main factor was Foye (23 points, five 3-pointers), who connected on three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the quarter. But it wasn’t enough to make a substantial difference, as the closest Denver got in the quarter was 14 points.
Officials had to separate the two teams late in the quarter after Kenneth Faried (eight points, seven rebounds) sent Snell to the ground on a hard foul. Noah came to Snell’s defense and, in the process, got into a shoving match with Nuggets in the area. Faried was given a Flagrant 1 foul, while Noah and Brooks were tagged with offsetting technical fouls.
After the technicals, the Bulls ended the quarter on a 12-5 run to take a 94-69 lead into the final 12 minutes of play.
For good measure, the Bulls scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 35, with Taj Gibson’s baseline jumper earning the crowd of 21,621 free Big Macs with the Bulls’ 100th and 101st points of the game.
An Augustin 3-pointer extended the lead to 36 points, 111-75, the biggest of the evening. With a Toko Shengelia layup in the final minute, 10 different Bulls scored on the evening.