CHICAGO — Pau Gasol has blocked more than 1,500 shots in 14 NBA seasons, so the Chicago Bulls forward knows a thing or two about what a blocked shot can do to the opposition.
“You plant a seed in their mind, knowing that they’re not going to get anything easy close to the basket,” Gasol said. “You alter shots, as well.”
For confirmation, just ask the Denver Nuggets.
The Bulls set a franchise record with 18 blocked shots in a 106-101 win over the Nuggets on Thursday night. Chicago (23-10) earned its eighth win in nine games and improved to 8-5 against teams from the Western Conference.
Gasol blocked a career-high nine shots to go along with 17 points and nine rebounds. Forward Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 26 points and eight assists, and guard Derrick Rose scored 17 points despite missing his first eight shots from the field.
Denver (13-20) lost for the fifth time in six games and dropped to 4-12 on the road this season.
Forward Wilson Chandler scored 22 points to lead the Nuggets. Guard Ty Lawson added 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Guard Arron Afflalo scored 19 points, and forward Kenneth Faried notched 18 points and 19 rebounds.
Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said he could not remember seeing a team block 18 shots in a game.
“In those situations, if you can’t finish inside, we have to kick the ball out to our shooters and at least give them a chance,” Shaw said. “That, coupled with the fact that we couldn’t keep them off the offensive boards down the stretch when we were able to get stops, just killed us.”
Chicago’s previous record for blocked shots in a game was 16, which it set Jan. 20, 2012, against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In addition to Gasol’s nine blocks, the Bulls received three from center Joakim Noah, two apiece from Rose and forward Taj Gibson, and one apiece from Butler and guard Aaron Brooks.
As Gasol and Noah led the defense, Rose sparked the Bulls’ offense late in the game. Rose scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter after going scoreless in the first half.
“It’s really my teammates giving me that confidence,” said Rose, who entered the game on a 7-for-35 skid, then shot 7-for-25 on Thursday. “Even though I was missing shots like I was the last couple of games, my teammates were still giving me the ball, talking to me, giving me confidence, telling me to shoot the ball. I’m fortunate.”
The Bulls erased a 13-point deficit shortly after halftime to grab a 77-74 lead entering the fourth quarter. Butler opened a 22-8 run with a driving layup into traffic, and he finished the run by finding guard Kirk Hinrich for an open 3-pointer from the corner to break a tie.
Faried said the Nuggets needed to play with more of a killer instinct in the second half against coach Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, who improved to 11-2 in their past 13 games.
“I know ‘Thibs,'” Faried said. “He got into them at halftime. I knew that they would attack and rebound and try to keep me off the boards. That’s what they did. They boxed me out, hit me, and they just kept attacking the whole half.”
Denver established a 53-42 lead at halftime thanks to the hot shooting of Chandler, who finished the first half with 16 points. Chandler scored eight consecutive points with a 3-pointer, a slam dunk and another 3-pointer to turn a 35-35 tie into a 43-35 lead with 2:29 remaining in the first half.
Neither team pulled away during a back-and-forth first quarter that featured four ties and six lead changes. The Nuggets closed the quarter with a 23-22 lead behind six points apiece from Lawson and Afflalo, who combined to shoot 5-for-7 in the first 12 minutes.
NOTES: Bulls G Kirk Hinrich returned to the court after missing five games because of a strained left hamstring. The Bulls went 4-1 during Hinrich’s absence. … Nuggets F Wilson Chandler was in the starting lineup after testing his bruised right quadriceps before the game. … Bulls F Doug McDermott missed his 16th game because of a right knee injury. … Nuggets F Darrell Arthur remained limited to emergency situations because of a lower-leg strain, coach Brian Shaw said. … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau maintained a poker face when asked about knee and back injuries that will sideline Cavaliers F LeBron James for the next two weeks. Thibodeau said, “We’re not feeling sorry for him. We have great respect for their team, but we have our own issues here.”
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