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We all know a basketball game with some 200 possessions isn’t decided by just one play, certainly not when the Bulls’ reserves were outscored 61-13, the team was outrebounded 55-48 and 17-10 on the offensive boards and the Bulls gave up a 24-0 run on the way to a 110-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets
“Teams never lose a game in the last second,” said Dwyane Wade. “We’re always pointing at that last two-minute report, that stupid two-minute report; that’s not where you lose a game. There are other things that happen throughout the game that helps you lose it. We’ll be fine; you have to learn to win. That was our mentality before when I was in Miami winning championship. We have to win despite us sometimes; this team will understand that. We’re going to have to win despite not getting this or not getting that at the end of games.”
And as it happened Tuesday after another brilliant game from Jimmy Butler with 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists; 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists from Rajon Rondo; 22 points from Wade; a double/double from Taj Gibson and six blocks from Robin Lopez, the Bulls were faced with that last shot to potentially tie or win the game with 9.5 seconds left and Denver leading 109-107.
It ended up being a three-pointer from the left wing from a curling Isaiah Canaan. It became his fourth missed three, falling short, one of six shooting in the game.
“I work on that shot every day,” said Canaan “I beat myself more than anything; my teammates were like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ But I know I’m capable of making those; I didn’t shoot it well tonight, but I thought the next one was going to go in.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was beating himself up afterward about the play, a first option for Butler going to the rim to get a pass from Wade, then Canaan curling around if Wade couldn’t find something for himself, which he didn’t.
“I have to get us a better look there are the end of the game,” said Hoiberg, repeating, “We gave ourselves a chance and I have to get us something better at the end.”
So when the game ended, the Bulls 10th consecutive loss in Denver and 15th in the last 16 to fall to 9-6, Wade was talking with Nuggets guard Will Barton, who made what were the winning points on free throws with 9.5 seconds left after being fouled by Wade on a drive.
So, Mr. Wade, Barton wondered, or something like that, how come you didn’t shoot?
“He was asking me why I didn’t take it when I had the ball,” Wade said. “He was like, ‘Why didn’t you go?’ I was explaining to him there was nowhere for me to go. There was a man in the corner, man there (in front); just giving him a little knowledge of why I didn’t go. If it was one on one it would have been a little different.
“We ran the play coach asked us to run,” Wade added. “If they make a mistake, I throw it up to Jimmy; if they don’t I give it to Sip (Canaan born in Mississippi) for a shot. We got a shot with a very good three-point shooter. It’s to get the best look; the first is to get Jimmy going to the basket. They switched with an athletic guy and kind of took that away. We run that play and Sip hits a three and it’s an amazing play and it’s a great team win; it doesn’t go in and it’s the opposite. We’re fine with it. We had a chance to come in and get one, but we didn’t. So we move on and get the next one.
“We’ll be fine; we’ll bounce back,” said Wade. “We have two days in between and we still have a chance to end this road trip successful; go into Philly, play a good game and try to come out of this road trip 4-2.”
Which perhaps was the greater message in defeat. Second guessing is the media and fan team sport. But in one of the Bulls’ most difficult stretches of the season with an Eastern Conference most in road games thus far, the Bulls are 3-2 on this trip with two losses so close they could be second guessed and reexamined down to the last possession. The Bulls continue to make big plays throughout, though much more on the starters in what was probably the reserves’ poorest game of the season. The play of Doug McDermott and Michael Carter-Williams, two of the team’s top three reserves, is being missed.
Still, it was another terrific effort and game, the Bulls off to another big start with a 14-point first quarter lead, losing it in stunning fashion with that Nuggets second quarter storm led by rookie Jamal Murray with a career high 24 points, and then an exciting finish with four fourth quarter ties and Butler with six points in 29 seconds with under two minutes left after the Nuggets took a four-point lead.
The Bulls didn’t get the breaks on an apparent Lopez block on Emmanuel Mudiay with 1:03 left that led to a pair of Denver free throws and 107-104 lead and what looked like Butler drawing a charge with 19.6 seconds left in a 107 tied game.
“I don’t know; if I run someone over like that I think I would get called for something, but it’s fine,” said Butler. “We can’t talk about it now. It wasn’t a charge and I’m good; that’s why I have on pads to absorb the contact.”
Denver then called a timeout and got Barton going to the basket, fouled and the two free throws for the two-point lead with 9.5 seconds.
So what do the Bulls do?
There’s one theory that you go for the win on the road and the tie at home. Then there’s another that if you are the better team (the Nuggets went to 6-8) you take your chances with the extra five minutes. Do you put the ball in Butler hands and let him make the play since he’s been doing that all season and had those six straight points? But Wade is the champion and he had eight points in the fourth quarter, one in which neither team shot 30 percent as both offenses resorted to isolation play.
“It was a call for Jimmy, but they took away the first option with Jimmy slipping to the basket,” explained Hoiberg “They stayed underneath him and Isaiah was coming off the crack back and was obviously wide open, but the play was for Jimmy. Try to get Jimmy going with something to the basket. Give the Nuggets credit; they took it away. Isaiah came off wide open similar to a play we ran the other day against the Clippers where Isaiah came off the second option and hit the three; he’s a tremendous shooter right now and if they took Jimmy away he was coming off. If he was open he was going to shoot it; if not we were going to try to get the ball back to Jimmy.”
Which didn’t happen, but Butler said don’t blame Hoiberg.
“They switched,” Butler noticed. “Kenneth Faried was standing in the paint, so I didn’t have anywhere to go. We got the ball to Sip; he got and open shot, but they just got a piece of it. It’s part of the game and if he would have made it, we wouldn’t be talking about it so I’m good with what happened. He (Hoiberg) wasn’t the one out there who gave up a whatever point lead it was, he wasn’t the one out there turning the ball over and not getting back. I don’t think it was on him. I think (the coaching staff) put us in a great position to win the game and at times we didn’t do what we were supposed to do and they can’t make us do that; that’s on us as men, so this one’s not on him. We’re in this together.”
It was, at least, an encouraging note for this song bird that became a turkey in the end.
It looked all Bulls again to start, the Nuggets reeling with 10 points from Butler in the first quarter, every Bulls starter scoring at least two baskets and the Bulls shooting 62 percent for a 31-19 lead. Hoiberg then went with his usual rotation of four reserves with Wade and they were shocked. They pretty much kept throwing the ball back to Wade as the shot clock ran down, Wade missing awkward shots in an amazing 22-0 Denver start to the second quarter.
“They got everything,” noted Wade. “Threes, half court, loose ball, transition; so we take that on us. Me as the captain of that group, the leader of that group, I came in at halftime and said, ‘That’s on us; we have to be better than that.’ That’s where the game shifted.”
Hoiberg got the starters back in sooner than usual, and the Bulls even tied the game at 60 at halftime. Nikola Mirotic gave the Bulls seven points in that second quarter, but every Bulls starter had a plus rating for the game and every Denver starter had a minus rating. There also were some tough matchups for the Bulls with Mirotic trying to play Denver sixth man Wilson Chandler, who had 16 points and who with Murray was dominant in that second quarter run.
Denver center Jusuf Nurkic was fierce in the third quarter as Denver showed why it leads the league in rebounding and would end with a 60-48 edge in inside points. Butler added another dozen points in the third quarter with a strong finish with short jumpers that brought the Bulls within 91-88 after three.
The fourth quarter was a slog for both teams with Lopez blocking three of his six shots and seemingly a fourth. Rondo and Gibson led the team in rebounds in the quarter and Rondo even made a key floater with 3:08 left. Butler’s three with 56 seconds was the only Bulls field goal after the Rondo shot. And then they couldn’t come up with one last one.
“We win, we lose, it’s together and everybody is going to smile tomorrow because we are fortunate to play this game and be around one another,” said Butler. “I’ve learned everyone in here is in high spirits and that’s what we need. We’ll get another chance at them.”
Yes, still plenty to give thanks for.