Nuggets’ Barton hits winning shot against Bulls
DENVER — When Will Barton was a boy, he dreamed of having the ball at crunch time and coming through for his team.
Given the opportunity as a man, Barton delivered.
Barton hit a driving layup with 3.2 seconds left to finish with a career-high 37 points, and the Denver Nuggets overcame Nikola Jokic’s injury to pull out a 111-110 win over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
Barton scored six points in the final 45 seconds to rescue his team against the club with the worst record in the NBA. Gary Harris scored 21 for Denver (12-9).
“I didn’t want to lose,” Barton said. “I didn’t know it was going to be a big scoring night, I just wanted to come in with energy.”
Lauri Markkanen had 20 points and nine rebounds, Robin Lopez also scored 20 and Kris Dunn had 19 points for Chicago (3-17). Justin Holiday added 16 for the Bulls, who have lost seven in a row.
“Lauri I thought was terrific all night,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Robin and Justin had a great game. We had a lot of really good performances, and I really thought we battled. That is what you have to do on the road to give yourself a chance. I am really proud of our guys.”
Jokic was injured with 44 seconds left in the first half when he stepped on Chicago guard Jerian Grant’s foot on a drive to the basket. He stayed on the floor holding his ankle. He remained in the game long enough to hit two free throws, and the Nuggets immediately fouled to stop the clock.
Jokic went to the locker room and had X-rays taken at halftime and did not return. He finished the night with eight points, four rebounds and four assists.
Jokic’s injury comes four days after forward Paul Millsap and surgery to repair ligament damage in his left wrist. Millsap will miss at least three months, but the Nuggets hope Jokic won’t miss any time.
“It’s a left ankle sprain; that’s all I have heard,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Hopefully he will be able to get some treatment and we hopefully get him back before the Lakers game (on Saturday).”
Without their top two big men, the Nuggets needed someone to come through, and Barton took the reins. He hit three free throws to tie the game at 108 with 45 seconds left, and then split a pair with 20 seconds remaining to put Denver ahead.
Dunn hit a layup over Kenneth Faried with 9.6 seconds left to put Chicago ahead by one, but Barton drove through the lane and hit a reverse layup.
“I work on that layup a lot,” Barton said. “(Assistant) coach (John Beckett), he always gets mad at me pregame and in practice, he’s like, ‘Man, I wish you would stop doing that layup.’ I tell him, ‘It’s going to come in handy.’ What do you know, tonight it was a big shot for us.”
It was Denver’s only field goal over the final 6:48 of the game.
Chicago’s Denzel Valentine missed a 32-foot heave at the buzzer.
Earlier, Denver went on a 10-2 run to take a four-point lead but then missed five shots and committed two turnovers, and the Bulls rallied to go ahead 104-101 with 2:57 left.
The Bulls stunned the Nuggets with a 19-4 run early in the game to take an 18-point lead. Barton came in and scored 12 points in a span of 2:18 to get Denver within five.
Chicago maintained the lead throughout the first half and went into the locker room ahead 68-62.
“It’s really tough because in the first half, we played really well,” Dunn said. “We were getting stops, everybody was connecting, we had good chemistry on the offensive end. The second half and in the third quarter they came out and jumped on us and took the pressure up guarding us and then they made buckets.”
NOTES: Nuggets G Will Barton’s previous career high was 35 against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 16. ... Chicago’s 68 points at intermission tied a season high for the first half. ... Bulls G Zach LaVine is getting closer to making his debut with the Bulls. LaVine tore his left ACL last February while with the Minnesota Timberwolves and has started practicing. “Zach had individual workout (Thursday), and he’ll have a full practice (Friday),” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. ... Nuggets F Wilson Chandler missed his second straight game and third in the last five due to lower back soreness. ... Chicago F Nikola Mirotic (facial fracture) has started practicing and is close to returning.