The Bulls were so close to doing the unthinkable in last night's game against the Nuggets: win two games in a row on the circus trip. They led 99-96 with five minutes left in the game and were playing well. Then, it all fell apart.
Chauncey Billups, the newest member of the Nuggets, took over the game with the help of Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony. He pushed Denver into an 18-2 run to end the game. Billups scored 7 of his 21 points and dished out three out of his eight assists in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls defense looked tired and unable to stop the Nuggets, who looked fresh and well-rested on the court. In one run, Denver ate up more than a minute of the fourth quarter by easily beating the Bulls on the boards. Billups tried a three-pointer, missed, and Martin grabbed the rebound. The Nuggets passed it until the shot clock almost expired, then Anthony threw up a jump shot. That didn't go in, and Anthony jumped up above the Bulls for the rebound. Again, they moved the ball around until the shot clock was near zero, and then Martin made a three-point shot. At that point, the game was as good as over, snatched out of the hands of the Bulls.
Before the anemic play of the fourth quarter, the Bulls were on their way to a win. Four players scored in double figures, with Ben Gordon leading the way with 28 points. Despite playing only 19 minutes due to a technical foul for arguing with the referees, Joakim Noah contributed nine rebounds. With the Bulls desperately in need of help from a big man, Aaron Gray came off the bench to pull six rebounds and eight points.
Tonight, the Bulls will have to shake off the loss to move to play the Utah Jazz. Tipoff is at 8:00 p.m. and the game will air on WCIU.