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Better defense, but more heartbreak for the Bulls in a loss to the Nuggets

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 12: Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket against the Chicago Bulls during a pre-season game on October 12, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – If Fred Hoiberg was hoping for a strong response from an offensive thumping at the hands of the Warriors on Monday, he certainly got it.

His Bulls team was tougher on the defensive end against the team sitting just behind Golden State in the Western Conference standings. A squad that was averaging over 112 points a game was kept below that in regulation.

Yet the Nuggets still managed to sour the evening for Hoiberg and the Bulls’ home fans at the United Center on Wednesday night – doing so in as heartbreaking of a fashion as you could imagine in October.

Holding onto a one-point lead in the final possession of overtime, the Bulls surrendered a putback layup to Paul Millsap with .1 left on the clock and lost 108-107. So close to one of the surprise victories of the season, instead the home team fell to 2-6 on the season after the forward rebounded Nikola Jokic’s first attempt at a game-winner and put it off the backboard and in for the game-winning hoop.

Before that, the Bulls had held Denver scoreless since the 2:10 mark in overtime, holding the lead since Justin Holiday’s three-pointer with 1:26 left. It was close, but not quite enough for the Bulls to have a victorious redemption after a forgettable effort in a 25-point loss to the Warriors in which they allowed 149 points.

In the first half the Bulls showed they wouldn’t have the same fate defensively as they went toe-to-toe with the Nuggets for the first 24 minutes, allowing 51 first half points. The contest remained within a couple of points during regulation, with rookie Wendell Carter Jr. pacing the effort with a career-high 25 points and Zach LaVine providing his usual scoring punch, getting a team-high 28 on the night.

His hoop with 2:32 to go in the game put the Bulls up by six, but Denver rallied with six-straight points of their own to even to tie the game with just over a minute left. Both teams had their chances to get a game-winning bucket, but neither team scored in the final 1:07.

Neither team pulled away in overtime, and in the end it was the Nuggets that made the big play as Millsap beat Bulls’ defenders to the rebound after the Jokic miss for the hoop. The effort was certainly better for the Bulls after the rough 48 hours, but heartbreak entered the equation for this team still very much searching for itself early in the 2018-2019 season.