Lindsey Hunter has seen this movie before: A taut game, a leader needed and Chauncey Billups in the thick of it all.
"He's a winner," Hunter said of his former Pistons teammate.
The Bulls blew a prime opportunity Sunday night at the Pepsi Center, collapsing down the stretch of a 114-101 loss, which made the Nuggets 8-2 since they acquired Billups from Detroit for Allen Iverson.
Billups tallied seven of his 21 points and three of his eight assists in the fourth quarter, which Denver closed with an 18-2 run. Kenyon Martin made all 10 shots en route to his team-high 26 points and Carmelo Anthony added 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
But the Bulls, led by Ben Gordon's 28 points, were ruing the one that got away as they dropped to 1-3 on this seven-game trip.
"We were right there," sighed Drew Gooden, who battled foul trouble to post 21 points and seven boards. "We got rattled and gave up too many easy baskets down the stretch. We have to get stops, especially the way we're turning the ball over."
The Bulls led 99-96 on Hunter's three-pointer with 5 minutes 17 seconds left when the roof caved in.
Martin hit the first of two free throws, the Bulls couldn't rebound the second and Anthony drained a three-pointer. Following a forced shot by Gooden, Anthony strolled down the lane to emphatically slam home another basket as the Bulls' defense failed to rotate.
Following another forced shot, this one by Larry Hughes, Billups scored on a driving finger roll. Hughes then missed a wide-open look on the ensuing possession and Billups drained a jumper.
After Gordon lost the ball under no pressure up top, Billups passed back to a trailing Martin on the ensuing fast break, which Martin finished with a dunk and foul on Gooden. Martin's three-point play capped the 13-0 run.
"Chauncey has always been a calming factor," Hunter said. "You can see the team taking his personality."
Gooden's 23-foot jumper with 2:37 left gave the Bulls their only points of the final five minutes.
The Nuggets finished the game with an 18-2 run. They enjoyed a 29-9 edge in fast-break points and scored 50 points in the paint.
"We made defensive mistakes that led to easy baskets underneath," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "And then we got out of sync and got sloppy with the ball."
Four of the Bulls' 17 turnovers came from Derrick Rose, who showed no effects from the bruised right hip suffered Friday, tallying 15 points and six assists.
"He's an All-Star in the making," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
The Bulls played without Luol Deng, who sat with a sore left hamstring for the third straight game.
"The issue is we're very young," Del Negro said. "We have a lot of guys I'm having to depend on that really haven't had major roles in the league. Talking about it is great. But actually going out and performing is another thing."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times