Jimmy Butler went off for 35 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. The Chicago starters outscored Denver’s 94 to 49. In the end, it all came down to execution and the Nuggets blew that – and won anyway 110-107 thanks to a little luck and some incredible bench play, especially from Jamal Murray (a career-high 24 points) and Wilson Chandler (16 points and 9 boards). The game was rough-and-tumble from beginning to end, but the Nuggets struck the last blow.

Denver began the game just a bit out of sorts. Barton started the game blowing several shots, obviously missing explosiveness from that ankle injury. The Bulls played physical defense, a couple of turnovers didn't help and Denver went down 9-2 early before a Mudiay 3.  The Bulls decided to clog the lane with bodies and force Denver to either plow through traffic or shoot  from distance. The Nuggets chose the former and kept attacking inside in some physical early play to middling results. A Wade 3 and a Mudiay turnover made it 19-10 halfway through the quarter. At 23-14, the reserves came in and Murray immediately nailed an off-balance running shot late in the clock:

The Nuggets lost the rebounding battle in the first quarter however, a rarity for them, and Chicago shot the lights out of the gym while Denver struggled (60% to 38%).  Denver trailed 31-19 after one.

Denver re-dedicated themselves to attacking the rim to start the second.  Murray drove the lane for a layup, Wilson Chandler followed, and Juancho converted his 3-point play. A Murray tap to Jokic finished a 9-0 run for Denver and cut the deficit to 3. Two Murray buckets took the lead back for Denver, and then a 3 after a scramble for the ball made it 35-31 Denver as the players on the court played their hearts out.

The Bulls could not stop it. Steals, threes, and eventually a 22-0 run before a Dwyane Wade 3.  In the end, the Bulls brought everyone back and put Jimmy Butler on Murray to slow him down.  Malone stayed with the bench unit a bit too long as turnovers and missed shots piled up against the tough starters of Chicago, who put together their own 7-0 run to pull within 2, 46-44.

The Nuggets' starters then came back but Wilson Chandler was the only Nugget who could match Chicago's ferocity as Denver's starters were outscored 50-14 in the half.  Chandler had 10 points off the bench but it was only enough to keep Denver tied up at halftime, 60-all.

Denver came out of the half in a dog-fight, and an oop from Barton to Faried showed maybe the energy would be there. It wasn't. The Bulls kepts beating Denver to rebounds, to cuts, to the easy places on the floor. Slowly Denver found its footing, though, and found a way to match Chicago's effort level.  Nurkic and Lopez kept trading blows and shots but Barton finally finding his stroke with a pair of threes provided promise, and an 82-78 lead.

The bench came back in and Chandler and Murray both stepped up with buckets, and a block by Jokic put the energy meter back on Denver's side.  Neither team had defensive answers for the other, and Murray's transition dunk in the final minute of the quarter was nice punctuation but only a slim lead, 91-88 after three.

The fourth quarter started off as physically as one would expect from this game.  After three minutes of blocks, (questionable) fouls and some made shots the score was tied at 93. Chandler and Nurkic helped power a mini-run by Denver, as the shallow Bulls started to struggle with the altitude during a long road trip.

Chicago scrapped back, though, as teams stacked with experienced and talented players do. Denver's veterans were told to push the pace in a timeout and instead settled for long jumpshots that they bricked, wasting Murray's rebounding efforts. Gallinari's hard drives for the basket helped, but Denver's offense devolved into a lot of isolation play and misses. A great swing pass from Barton to Chandler to Gallo for 3 put Denver up 4. 

A poor foul call got Butler 3 free throws to reel it right back in. It would all come down to the last minute of the game, where Denver had blown games time and time again.  Mudiay drew a key foul and made a pair of free throws but Butler's 3 tied it at 107.  The Bulls kept screaming about fouls that either were or were not called but the Nuggets worked their last shot for a pair of free throws from Barton and left it up to Chicago. Faried had a key rebound (that he didn't need to try for) and threw it off Mirotic. 

It came down to a pair of inbounds plays – the sort of play that had lost Denver games already this season. Denver ran a heading-for-the-back-court play that grinds the nerves but Gallo pulled off the inbounds – and then made just one of two from the line. The Bulls trailed by 3 with 0.3 seconds to go.  Taj Gibson was left completely uncovered on the final inbound but couldn't make the three-point bucked and Denver finally one a close one, 110-107.

Three Thoughts:

– Jamal Murray is ours and you can't have him.  Murray scored 15 points in just over 4 minutes of the second.  He lit a fire under the Nuggets after a very flat first and had youngsters and vets alike fired up.  With Dwyane Wade here, we at Stiffs had posed the question earlier in the day as to what the team would be like with Wade, and which candidates wanted to step up to assume the mantle of alpha dog of this talented-but-still-growing team. Murray threw his hat in the ring tonight.

– Wilson Chandler is playing the best ball of his career. Butler scored a billion but Wilson was not on him for much of that time.  Chandler was everything you could ask for on the offensive end though, and his fearlessness carried the team for stretches. He was gassed late but his defense on Butler in the final minute helped Denver carry the day.

– Denver finally got that last-second victory – and it was so, so sweet.  Learning experiences are fine, but sooner or later you have to learn from them. It definitely wasn't pretty, but Denver finally took those lessons to the bank and cashed them out for a victory.  It's gonna be a good plane ride tonight.

In honor of the victory, please enjoy more Jamal Murray footage. There’s plenty to go around!