Highlights: Bulls thrashed by Denver
DENVER—During Tom Thibodeau’s tenure as Bulls head coach, the team has been known for stingy defense, giving a consistently hard effort and on a nightly basis, playing with pride.
None of those elements were present Thursday night at the Pepsi Center, as the Bulls (29-20) were thoroughly embarrassed by the Nuggets (32-18), getting uncharacteristically blown out, 128-96, for simultaneously Thibodeau’s largest margin of defeat and most points allowed since taking over in 2010.
Whether he was motivated by the day’s trade rumors or simply knocked off some of his layoff-related rust, Carlos Boozer (18 points), in his second game back in the lineup after a three-game absence due to a right-hamstring injury, seemed to find his rhythm early in helping the visitors take an early advantage.
However, Thibodeau’s worst fears subsequently came true, as the high-flying hosts got out in transition, with back-to-back spectacular dunks by recently-announced All-Star weekend dunk-contest participant Kenneth Faried (21 points, 12 rebounds) and versatile swingman Andre Iguodala (14 points) allowed the Nuggets to seize the lead and prompted an early timeout.
Led by Faried wreaking havoc and reserve swingman Wilson Chandler (24 points) serving as an offensive spark off the bench, Denver extended their advantage to double digits, playing at a fast pace that necessitated its guests going to a small-ball lineup—reserves Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson replaced Boozer and Joakim Noah, who returned to the court after missing three games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot; it showed in the All-Star’s conditioning and overall rust—though that still didn’t stop the Nuggets’ surge.
At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls managed to make it a single-digit affair again, but still trailed, 33-25, following a late triple by Butler.
With the likes of rookie point guard Marquis Teague and backup shooting guard Daequan Cook (19 points)—starting point guard Kirk Hinrich didn’t make the trip to the Rockies, as he continues to deal with his right-elbow injury, while Marco Belinelli missed the game due to the right-ankle injury he suffered Monday in Indiana—on the floor at the outset of the second quarter, the Bulls, buoyed by All-Star Luol Deng’s (11 points, eight rebounds, four assists) typically solid play, stayed within striking distance, despite the constant presence of Faried, who shot a perfect 8-for-8 in the early going, on the offensive glass.
Cook, billed as a sharpshooter, lived up to his reputation with his long-distance marksmanship, as did Nate Robinson (14 points, six assists), who also made an impact as a playmaker to further aid the guests in whittling away at the deficit.
While the Nuggets were certainly exciting and made a handful of highlight-worthy plays throughout the first half, the workmanlike Bulls stayed the course, gradually chipping away and as period waned on, they had narrowed the gap to make the contest a tight-knit, if high-scoring affair.
Boozer again picked it up and coupled with Robinson’s scoring exploits, the visitors were behind at the intermission, but by the much more reasonable margin of 63-58.
After the break, the hosts exerted their will, as the duo of skilled small forward Danilo Gallinari (15 points) and jet-quick point guard Ty Lawson (16 points, 12 assists) carried the offensive load, with help from Iguodala and Faried, to help the Nuggets reestablish a double-digit advantage once again.
The aerial exploits of Faried, Iguodala and backup center JaVale McGee helped Denver’s lead balloon to 20 points against the lethargic-looking visitors, who couldn’t keep up with the Nuggets’ fast-break attack or keep them off the offensive glass, let alone execute offensively when posed with the hosts’ athletic shot-blocking ability.
The Nuggets’ dunking exhibition continued throughout the third quarter, with McGee, a former dunk-contest participant, taking center stage, as the home team converted their guests’ turnovers and even missed shots into easy, aesthetically-pleasing opportunities, thrilling the late-night Pepsi Center crowd.
In perhaps the most lackluster defensive performance of the Thibodeau era, the Bulls—who utilized seldom-used reserve Vladimir Radmanovic by the end of the period, a sure sign that even their hard-nosed coach had admitted his team was done for the night—headed into final stanza facing a 100-74 disadvantage.
In what amounted to extended garbage time, Denver continued to pour it on in the fourth quarter against the Bulls’ deep reserves—Thibodeau apparently preferred to rest his regulars for Friday evening’s game in Utah—though Cook continued to have the hot hand from outside.
Nuggets loyalists began to exit the building after their team reached the 110-point mark—meaning they’d benefit from a taco promotion after the game—but the damage was already done long before that occurred.