They scored only 20 points in the first quarter and allowed the Nuggets to score 32 on 60% shooting from the field and 50% from three-point range.
Things got worse from there. Michael Porter Jr. scored at will, and Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic got easy points in the post. Simply put, the Bulls looked like a team sleepwalking their way through a game for which they should have been fresh.
The time they had to prepare because of the break in their schedule called the loss further into question, and coach Billy Donovan had no answers except to say it was an energy issue.
”We had three days in terms of no games, so we should have been an extremely fresh basketball team,” Donovan said. ”’There’s always some form of adversity that hits the game, and we have to be better at thriving in that.”
Nuggets coach Mike Malone was focused on three stats entering the game. In their four losses, the Nuggets are allowing teams to score an average of 128 points and to shoot 44% from three-point range and are giving up an average of 25 second-chance points.
His team kept the Bulls well below 128 points, held them to 27.3% shooting from three-point range and allowed only eight second-chance points.
The loss dropped the Bulls to 6-8, but it was only the second time they had been beaten by 10 or more points. The first was in their home opener by the Cavaliers.
The Bulls are 0-6 in ”clutch” time, which is defined by the league as games separated by five points or fewer with five minutes or less to play. Unfortunately for them, the game Sunday didn’t qualify. The Nuggets led by 21 points to start the fourth quarter and extended their edge to as many as 28.
The Bulls tried to get back into the game in the third quarter. They cut an 18-point deficit to 11 before the Nuggets responded by pushing their lead to 20. The Bulls never trailed by fewer than 17 the rest of the night, and fans started heading for the exits with about five minutes left.
”I believe energy is a choice,” Donovan said. ”You can’t play off of feelings because feelings come and go. You have to choose to do things. We have a choice in what kind of energy we play with.”
Porter picked the Bulls’ defense apart. He finished with 31 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the field, including 6-for-9 from three-point range. Jamal Murray added 23 points, and Jokic had eight points and 14 assists.
”Some of the shots Porter made, he just rose up and shot over us,” Donovan said. ”You have to be able to not get so dejected.”
Offensively, the Bulls struggled to establish any kind of rhythm and gave up 19 points off 21 turnovers. Zach LaVine scored a team-high 21 points, and DeMar DeRozan added 16. Alex Caruso was held scoreless, taking only one shot in 21 minutes.
Reserve big man Andre Drummond had 13 points and 11 rebounds, becoming the 32nd center in league history to score 10,000 career points and the eighth who has worn a Bulls jersey.
LaVine and DeRozan are the players the Bulls turn to for direction after losses such as the one Sunday. At this point, however, there’s nothing more to be said.
”It’s all about action after that,” LaVine said. ”Sometimes we just have to shut up and go out there and play our game.”