By K.C. Johnson
CHICAGO – However this Bulls’ season ends, Monday night at the United Center will remain memorable.
Down four players and nine fourth-quarter points, the Bulls succumbed to the Nuggets 119-118 in overtime in a finish filled with guts, grittiness and goaltending.
Andre Iguodala’s 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds left proved the winning points, but not without controversy.
Joakim Noah tipped home Marco Belinelli’s missed baseline jumper with 1.7 seconds left, but the basket got waved off for offensive goaltending. The officials upheld the call after video review, after which Tom Thibodeau erupted in anger.
Making the call even more painful for the Bulls, Thibodeau had vehemently argued for offensive goaltending on Kosta Koufos when he tipped home Ty Lawson’s miss with 46.4 seconds left. That basket gave the Nuggets a one-point lead.
Noah, who had a monster night with 14 points, 12 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists, tipped in Nate Robinson’s miss with 32.8 seconds left to put the Bulls back ahead. Noah then blocked Wilson Chandler’s jumper in the lane.
But Robinson, who scored a season-high 34 points, could only split two free throws with 18.4 seconds left, allowing for Iguodala’s heroics.
The Nuggets tied a 31-year-old franchise record with their 12th straight NBA victory. They once won 15 straight in the ABA.
Last month in Denver, the Nuggets threw down 14 dunks and scored 64 points in the paint. This time, the damage was 12 dunks and 68 points in the paint.
Chandler, a former DePaul standout, scored 35 points to lead six Nuggets in double figures. He torched the Bulls for 24 points on 8-for-9 shooting in the last meeting.
The Bulls basically used just six players.
It’s the 28th time this season the Nuggets have scored 60 or more points in the paint. They enjoyed a 30-8 advantage in fast-break points.
Thibodeau insists he’s not tiring of the daily injury questions, including incessant speculation about Derrick Rose’s return.
Still, the Bulls were within 103-102 on Belinelli’s jumper with 62 seconds remaining. That’s when crafty veteran Andre Miller, calmly drove the lane and scored with 51.1 seconds left. But after Belinelli misfired on a jumper, Miller traveled, giving the Bulls a final chance in regulation.
Robinson buried it, swishing a 3-pointer out of a timeout with 13.4 seconds left and then ably challenging Lawson’s game-winning attempt at the regulation buzzer.