Chicago Bulls at Denver Nuggets Takeaways: Jimmy Needs Backup

Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls strolled into the Mile High City looking to secure a winning Circus Trip, but that will have to wait with their 110-107 loss to the Nuggets on Tuesday.

Coming off Sunday’s win against the ultra young Los Angeles Lakers the Bulls got off to yet another hot start, and led 31-19 after the first quarter. Mike Malone’s Nuggets were 5-8 heading into tonight, having managed only two wins in six tries at home. The Bulls hadn’t won in the Pepsi Center in their last nine games, and tonight’s loss makes it a full decade of futility in Denver.

Butler scored the first points for the Bulls and he didn’t look back, but the rest of the team did as they looked sloppy and out of sorts most of the evening.

Taj Gibson and Dwyane Wade both contributed in the first quarter as Chicago shot 65 percent from the field, including 4-of-4 from the 3-point line. The Bulls led 31-19.

The second quarter was a completely different story as the Nuggets blew the second unit out of the water, starting the quarter on a 22-0 run. Kentucky rookie Jamal Murray fueled the run, scoring 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting. Fred Hoiberg had finally seen enough and removed some of the bench unit. Wade ended the Nuggets’ run with a 3-pointer, but Bulls still trailed 34-41.

Butler made amazing plays back-to-back, and Nikola Mirotic chipped in to help the Bulls crawl back into the game. The Nuggets sagged off Rajon Rondo completely, begging him to shoot. And he obliged making a few mid range jumpers. Wade ended the half on a nice drive to the hoop, finishing at the rim with a vintage spinning layup to tie the game 60-60.

The third quarter saw Robin Lopez hit three shots early. But the Bulls continued their poor defense. Murray continued his stellar play attacking the Bulls every chance he got. Butler tried to bail his teammates out to close the quarter, but the Nuggets still led.

The last couple minutes of the fourth quarter were exciting. Emmanuel Mudiay fouled Butler on a 3-point try.  Lopez was called for a questionable foul that helped put the Nuggets up by three. But Butler answered with a clutch fadeaway 3-pointer to tie the game with under a minute to play. Then Wade sent another Nugget to the free throw line. Down two with under 20 seconds to play, Hoiberg drew up a play that can’t have ended how it was supposed to, as Isaiah Canaan came off the bench, and then a screen to miss a contested 3-point shot.

With the loss to the Nuggets the Bulls drop to 9-6, but they still sit in fourth place in the East.

Now for three takeaways from Denver.

Nov 15, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) and forward Jimmy Butler (21) and guard Jerian Grant (2) react after a dunk by Wade against the Portland Trail Blazers during the third quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 15, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) and forward Jimmy Butler (21) and guard Jerian Grant (2) react after a dunk by Wade against the Portland Trail Blazers during the third quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

First Quarter Kings

The Bulls continued to score in bunches during the first quarter. They are currently sixth overall in the NBA averaging 28.1 first quarter points. The Bulls scored 35 against the Blazers. They cooled off in Utah, scoring only 25. Then they scored 33 against the Clippers, and then 31 against the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back. In their loss to the Nuggets they scored 31, shooting 65 percent from the field.

Butler seemingly gets off to a hot start every night. And all five starters scored at least four points in the first. Rondo scored one of his signature fake the behind the back pass and finish with a layup. But the veteran point guard added to the difficulty finishing on the other side of the rim. The trend of teams daring Rondo to shoot continued in Denver. And he took the shots he needed to in order to keep them honest, even knocking down a corner 3-point shot.

Lopez continues to prove his worth on a nightly basis as he anchors the Bulls defensively. And the 7-footer looks more than capable to score when needed, which included knocking down a straight-away17-footer and a hook shot. Wade and Gibson both played well. And Mirotic added a customary 3-pointer for good measure near end of the first.

As the Bulls continue to shine during first quarters, it makes their awful transition into the second quarter, with the second unit even harder to stomach.

Nov 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) reacts to hitting a three-point shot at the first-half buzzer against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) reacts to hitting a three-point shot at the first-half buzzer against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

All About the Butler

Butler continues to dominate games for the Bulls. The 27-year-old wing is coming off Eastern Conference Player of the week honors, after putting up 40 points against the Lakers inside the always dark Staples Center.

In the loss to the Nuggets, Butler scored or assisted on seven of the Bulls first nine possessions. He looked to attack Danilo Gallinari early and often. Butler had back-to-back amazing plays in the second quarter. He caught a wonderful lob from Rondo. And then a play later, he tip-saved a long Rondo breakaway pass to Mirotic for an easy layup.

Butler finished the night with 35 points, five assists and eight rebounds. He shot 11-22 from the floor, and 11-12 from the charity stripe. Butler finished the game with a + 18, the best of both teams by far. The next closest Bull was Gibson at +13. Rondo fished at +3, and Wade was a 0 for the evening.

He hit three clutch free throws after drawing a foul on Mudiay. Then he took a charge near half court that wasn’t called. And then he hit the game-tying 3-pointer.

And when the Bulls needed him one last time at the end of regulation, Hoiberg tried to call the play for him but the Nuggets sold-out on the two-time All Star.

Now to the most important matter of business: Can someone else on the Bulls step up and help Butler?

Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Michael Carter-Williams (7) blocks the shot of Indiana Pacers forward Georges Niang (32) during the second half at United Center. The Bulls won 118-101. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Michael Carter-Williams (7) blocks the shot of Indiana Pacers forward Georges Niang (32) during the second half at United Center. The Bulls won 118-101. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Bulls Bad Bench

Early in the season Butler seemed to let the games come to him. But as his teammates have began to struggle around him, he is forced to do more and more. To his credit he has done just that with amazing efficiency, but he needs help.

If the Bulls are going to make this whole winning thing a habit, the bench and the rest of the starting unit really need to step up. The Bulls bench was outscored 61-13 by the Nuggets reserves. Bobby Portis failed to score during his eight minutes, and grabbed only one rebound. Denzel Valentine also failed to score in over his 14-minute stretch. And Isaiah Canaan scored just two points in 18 minutes.

With the bench playing so poorly, especially Portis, it only makes sense that the Brazilian wonder Cristiano Felicio see more playing time. But it seems like Hoiberg has him crazy glued to the bench.

One positive from this stretch of pretty rough bench play is that is makes Doug McDermott seem even more valuable. Without McDermott the second unit lacks floor spacing. And recently, really any scoring at all.

If the bench guys keep playing so poorly, Hoiberg will need to spice some things up just to see what works.

The Bulls don’t play again until Friday in Philadelphia. So enjoy the holiday Bulls fans, because even if you don’t need a break, this team does.

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