Bulls bring better effort, but lose to Denver on last-second basket
Halloween night at the United Center got off to a nice start when Bulls center Robin Lopez rode his costume into the arena.
Lopez dressed as Elliott from the movie "E.T." and pedaled a bike with a stuffed version of the film's star sitting in the basket, wrapped in a blanket.
Lopez took a full lap on the bike, down the hallway past the locker rooms, through the tunnel, across the court and back through the other tunnel. He later tweeted that he almost killed Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris during the journey.
At that point, the question was whether the Bulls could do anything on the court to match or top Lopez's holiday entrance.
As it turned out, the game was a thriller, but the ending was all rocks and no candy for the Bulls. They led down the stretch, but Paul Millsap's putback bank shot with 0.1 seconds left gave Denver a 108-107 victory.
It was a rough ending, but coming on the heels of Monday's record-filled loss to Golden State, there was encouragement.
"We have to learn how to win," Zach LaVine said. "We brought it all the way down to the wire. We made some mistakes, but we fought, so that's the way thing. It still stinks because you play such a good game, you want that result."
This game was an unmasking of sorts for Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr., who established a new career-high for the third straight game. The rookie from Duke finished with 25 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks, including a volleyball spike of Malik Beasley's driving attempt on the Nuggets' second-to-last possession.
Just before Millsap's game-winner, Carter helped coax a miss from Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who piled up 22 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists.
"Wendell was phenomenal," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's as tough a cover as Wendell's going to have. I did think he made (Jokic) work for it. He battled him, his help was great, he had 3 blocks out there.
"(Carter) has such an impact on that defensive end, he can be a great anchor for us at the rim and that's an area we really lacked last year."
LaVine led the Bulls with 28 points, but missed a good look at a jumper with 14.0 seconds left that could have given the home team a 3-point lead. Justin Holiday and Antonio Blakeney added 15 points each. Holiday's 3-pointer gave the Bulls a 107-106 advantage with 1:26 left.
Jabari Parker got his first start as a Bull, with Hoiberg explaining that he thought Parker would match up better against Millsap than rookie Chandler Hutchison. He didn't. Parker left the floor with 2 fouls at the 8:46 mark of the first quarter after getting beaten badly by a Millsap crossover.
Parker did settle in and played the crunchtime minutes at power forward, finishing with 6 points and a team-high 9 rebounds. He was not on the floor for the final shot, when Millsap tossed aside Holiday's box out attempt.
The Bulls pulled ahead midway through the fourth quarter, with a Carter 3-pointer and LaVine jumper giving them a 92-86 lead with 5:18 left. The Bulls kept the 6-point edge for a few trips, but a couple of bad possessions opened the door for a quick run and the Nuggets tied it at 98-98 with 1:07 left on a Beasley jumper.
Cameron Payne's bad pass caused a turnover on the previous possession and Hoiberg responded by sending Ryan Arcidiacono on the floor to finish the game.
The Bulls missed two chances to take the lead in the final minute of regulation before Parker's 27-footer fell short at the buzzer.