The Denver Nuggets spent their Halloween night in Chicago as they looked for their sixth win of the season against the 2-5 Bulls. Last season’s demons reared their head as the Nuggets failed to execute on either end for four straight quarters, but they stole a 108-107 win in overtime thanks to Paul Millsap’s put back at the buzzer.
On paper, this game was supposed to be easy for Denver—like taking candy from a masked stranger on Halloween. On the court, just about everything came the hard way—like trying to escape from a masked stranger on Halloween.
Chicago is home to one of the largest Serbian populations in the United States, and Nikola Jokic typically treats the United Center like his own personal playground. That was not the case in regulation on Wednesday night. Jokic looked lethargic and disinterested as a scorer for the second straight game, and Denver’s half court offense never really got flowing.
Gary Harris, who was drafted by Chicago back in 2014, scored the team’s first five points of the game, giving them a lead they’d hold for the entire first half. But Jokic’s pouty demeanor and mind-numbing passiveness prevented the Nuggets from opening it up the way they should against such a porous defense. It didn’t help that they couldn’t buy a bucket from deep either.
Harris was excellent, and Mason Plumlee was the best player for a second unit that held their own in the first 24 minutes. As the two team’s headed to the locker room at the half, Denver was in the driver’s seat, but they were far from in control.
That’s when things got really scary.
The Nuggets are trying to turn a new leaf this season, avoiding self-inflicted errors on the road, and finding their killer instinct against inferior teams. But the only thing they turned over on Wednesday night was possession of the basketball, literally handing the Bulls control of the game as they racked up points on the fast break.
With 8:49 remaining in the third quarter, Jabari Parker cut through the lane and flushed it to give Chicago their first lead. Malone called a timeout, which seemed to inject some life back into his players, but the Nuggets couldn’t separate.
Denver dominated in the paint, as they had all night long, but they were trading twos for threes as the Bulls launched an aerial assault on the other end. Justin Holiday (5-9 from 3) and Antonio Blakeny (4-4 from 3) led the way as the Bulls shot their way back into it from deep. Denver built a four point at the end of the quarter, but they allowed Holiday to go coast-to-coast with 7 seconds left as he threw down an uncontested dunk at the Buzzer.
The two teams spent the fourth quarter trading buckets, and leads, as the Nuggets finally found some sort of groove on offense—but absolutely no one could stop Zach Lavine. The Bulls top scorer went to work in the fourth, nearly winning the game for Chicago.
The final possessions were a nightmare—a frenzied flurry of blocked shots and deflected passes as neither team could put the final nail in the coffin. When the dust cleared, the Nuggets found themselves with an opportunity to draw up the game winning play. They had gained possession and called time with 5.3 seconds remaining—a somewhat surprising event considering Malone’s reputation for burning through his timeouts. But the Nuggets botched a designed lob play for Malik Beasley, handing the ball right back to the Bulls.
The game would go to overtime.
Jokic rose from the dead in the final five minutes. The big Serbian scored eight points on four shots and grabbed four rebounds as he tried to will his team to victory. Ultimately though, his efforts fell just short. That one missed shot came in the final seconds of overtime with his team trailing by one, but Paul Millsap was there to lift him up as he put the miss back in for the game winner.
16 turnovers, a -27 point differential from three, and a flat start from Jokic—Wednesday night was a frightening affair for Nuggets fans. But a win is a win, and Denver’s 6-1 start is their best since 1985.
What a treat.
Denver will travel to Cleveland, where they’ll play the ailing Cavaliers tomorrow night. That game tips off at 5 pm MT.