The Phoenix Suns shot better than 50 percent, stayed close on the boards and received a superstar offensive performance from Steve Nash yet the Chicago Bulls still found a way to wallop them even with their All-Star point guard in street clothes.
The Suns managed to score 30 more points than the Bulls were allowing on their home floor, yet the defense broke down in their 118-97 loss, Phoenix’s fifth consecutive defeat.
Even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls throttled the Suns’ defense to the tune of a 126.9 efficiency and that’s counting a fourth quarter of garbage time. For the season previously with Rose missing just two games the Bulls scored 101.8 per 100.
During their five-game losing streak, the Suns’ defense has suddenly reverted to old form, yielding offensive ratings of 120.9, 111.2, 108.6 and 104.1 before this horrific 126.9. By comparison, Orlando’s league-leading offense entered the day with an efficiency of 107.1.
The Phoenix defense’s stay in the top 10 was all too short, as it entered the day ranked tied for 21st before continuing to free fall Tuesday night in the United Center.
“The big difference was we just didn’t slow them down,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “We are not the Phoenix Suns of old. We need to slow down and guard them more closely. We just need to play closer to players like Boozer. We just can’t go out and say on their jump shots ‘make them and beat us.’ We need to defend better, we need to be more physical especially on our rebounding. We also need to communicate better on our defensive rotations.”
Carlos Boozer was the main perpetrator on this night as he got hot from the perimeter and torched the Suns for a season-high 31 points on 14-for-21 shooting, including 26 in the first half alone. C.J. Watson was superb in relief of Rose by contributing 23 on 8-of-12 shooting and all the Chicago starters scored in double digits.
On the bright side the Suns’ offense was actually quite good as well in the early going, scoring 31 points in the first quarter alone, which is about half of what the Bulls had been given up during home games all game … yet they still found themselves trailing by eight due to the porous defensive effort.
Their offense slowed a bit in the second quarter but the Bulls kept right on clicking and the Suns were buried from there.
“We just played catch up all night,” said Gentry, whose team still managed to score 23 more points than any other United Center visitor despite 19 turnovers. “That is really tough to do against a good team like this. They just had control of the game from halftime on.”
Nash played about as good an offensive game as a point guard can, exploding for 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting while dishing nine assists in 30 minutes of play before sitting out the fourth. However, he did turn the ball over five times and somehow left with a team-worst -26.
Aside from Nash, the Suns received superlative performances from their centers, and that’s about it. Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez split the center spot’s 48 minutes and produced 30 points and 21 rebounds, including all but 17 of Phoenix’s total rebounds (no other player grabbed more than four), with Gortat going for 14 and 15 and Lopez 16 and six on 6-for-7 shooting in 17 active minutes.
Nash and Gortat playing excellent ball without getting much help has become the story of the losing streak, but Lopez scored more than five points for the first time since the season’s opening week in his best game of the season since the opener.
Ronnie Price fed him an early layup, and from there his activity level was off the charts. During one fourth quarter sequence he blocked a Taj Gibson shot and then ran down to nail an open jumper of his own as the trail guy, and another time he darted through the lane to tip in a teammate’s miss as he so seldom did last season. Lopez was a true difference maker during both of his stints on the floor tonight.
Usually a Suns loss in Chicago would be chalked up to nothing other than the Bulls’ elite status, but a confluence of circumstances seemed to give Phoenix a chance.
Most importantly, the Bulls ran without the reigning MVP of the league, and they were playing on consecutive days after getting routed by Memphis the day before without Rose while the Suns enjoyed a day off in Chicago. Yet the Bulls played like the well-rested team.
“For a team missing their best player and a team that played yesterday they sure came out with a lot of energy,” Grant Hill said. “They played harder than us. They played like the team in the Eastern Conference with the best record. We didn’t come out with that same intensity level. If you’re not going to play that hard, you’re going to get embarrassed like we did tonight.”
If Elston Turner cannot fix what’s ailed the Suns’ defense during their now five-game losing streak, there could be many more embarrassing nights ahead of them.
- Steve Nash earned votes in a wide variety of categories in the annual NBA GM survey that came out today. He was voted the player with the best basketball IQ and also ranked second for best passer behind Chris Paul and for best international player behind Dirk Nowitzki (although the German won in a landslide). He ranked third for does the most with the least (Jared Dudley also got votes) and tied for third for best leader. Nash and Hill tied for fourth for active player that will make the best head coach as well. Markieff Morris was the only other Sun to receive a vote, ranking fifth for Rookie of the Year.
- Former Sun Zabian Dowdell failed his medical tests and thus his contract to play for Turkish powerhouse Anadolu Efes Istanbul has been voided, according to Sportando. This is just another piece of misfortune for Dowdell, the Suns’ former backup point guard, who has experienced more than his share of tough luck in his professional basketball career.