Chicago Bulls 112, Phoenix Suns 106 OT — Valiant comeback thwarted

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns would be a pretty good team if they could convince themselves they trailed by double digits before the opening tip.

Instead despite a valiant effort in digging themselves out of an 18-point second-half deficit, their eighth double-digit deficit in nine games, the Suns ran out of gas in overtime of their 112-106 loss to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night in US Airways Center.

“It takes too much out of you to fight back to come back, to be able to tie it up it takes so much out of you that in overtime it’s tough, it’s real tough,” P.J. Tucker said.

The Suns trailed 79-61 with three minutes left in the third and then 83-69 to start the fourth when a bench-dominant lineup of Tucker, Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris went to work along with Luis Scola, and nine minutes later a Bassy trey knotted the score at 93.

The Suns turned the game around by locking up the Bulls defensively and dominating the backboards with the kind of energy that typifies a unit featuring Tucker and Telfair.

Tucker outrebounded the Bulls on his own in a quarter in which the Suns won the battle of the glass by a margin of 13-4. Tucker scooped up four misses on the offensive end while the Suns as a team shot 52.0 percent and grabbed six offensive boards. He also held Luol Deng to three points in 10 minutes in the fourth after the swingman scored 16 on 6-for-11 shooting through three quarters.

“We locked up, got all our assignments,” Tucker said. “Everybody just looked at each other and said we were going to lock up and do what we had to do. We did it.”

Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, “Tucker was crushing us with the second shots.”

Boy, was he ever. Tucker flew around the court in the fourth like a player who never wants to return to Europe. He was crashing the boards hard, diving for loose balls and somehow coming up with rebounds in traffic over much bigger players.

He even scored the bucket that sent the game into overtime. After trailing by four with a minute left Brown converted a three-point play and Richard Hamilton split a pair of free throws to make it a 100-98 Bulls lead. Bassy then drove the length of the floor and lost the ball — where else? — right into the waiting arms of Tucker, who converted the tying layup with 9.4 ticks left.

“Yeah, that was exactly drawn for me to throw it up,” he said. “No, Bassy lost the handle a little bit and it just kind of fell in my hands.”

That play pretty much summed up the Suns’ fourth quarter, which also saw Brown (10) and Telfair (nine) combine for 19 points, two more than Chicago as a team.

It’s only human nature for a team to relax with a big lead, and the combination of that and the energy lineup the Suns played throughout most of the fourth quarter was the recipe for the comeback. There really is no quit in this team, but Phoenix has yet to play at this level throughout an entire game. Gentry keeps saying if the game is within a few points when the Suns rip off one of these runs, then they’ll really have something.

Could it be a case of a more talented opponent taking a big lead on the Suns and then letting up a bit, at which point the Suns outwork them to get back in the game? It’s hard to say exactly at this point, but whatever it is the Suns better figure it out soon.

“That seems to be our problem right now,” Telfair said. “We go through spurts where we just don’t play as well. We’ve got to get out of that funk because we’re not going to be able to do that on the road. You’re on the road, you get down 20, that’s game.”

Added Gentry, “These kind of losses hurt, but if we keep competing like this we’ll find a way to win games like this, games that we’re not supposed to win we’ll find a way to come away with a win in those situations.”

Gentry also noted that he’s still toying with his lineups trying to discover the perfect combinations to play throughout a game. The past few years we’ve gotten used to relatively set lineup patterns, yet this season only two lineups have played more than 16 minutes together and 20 different lineups have played at least five minutes.

One trend, per the NBA’s stats tool, is that Bassy-Tucker is a very good pairing. Of the 20 Suns duos to share the court for at least 80 minutes together, none are better than Bassy-Tucker. Small sample size aside, tell me you thought that would be the case nine games in. Not surprisingly, Bassy-Tucker is the best defensive pairing in this sample, yielding 99.3 points per 100 possessions compared to 106.4 for the team as a whole.

The small sample size police would probably require me to note this has occurred over just 93 minutes, yet tonight was only the latest example of how their energy can turn a game around.

The Suns also would not have come back without a monster game from Scola, who poured in a team-high 24 points on 12-for-22 shooting to go with 14 boards in 42:30. That’s even after fouling out a mere 40 seconds into overtime when Kirk Hinrich slid over to draw a charge that stymied the Suns’ offense. Michael Beasley was forced to return for the first time since the 4:02 mark of the third quarter, and the Suns scored one point in the first 3:43 of overtime.

“It was tough,” Gentry said of Scola fouling out. “Like I said, the guy just competes like crazy. He knows angles and he knows basketball. When we lost him he was playing so well offensively. We were kind of going through him and so when he fouled out it put us in a little bit of a tough situation, but that’s why you have guys on the roster. You have to have guys come in and step, up you really do.”

By that point, Markieff Morris had left the game with a lower back bruise suffered at the end of regulation (he’s day-to-day), paving the way for Beasley’s return.

Along with Brown, Beasley missed 11 of 15 shots and committed four turnovers to boot. The offense no longer flowed quite so well, and the Suns yielded more field goals in overtime than the fourth quarter (five to four). It might be unfair to pin all of this on the former No. 2 overall pick when perhaps other players were spent from the fourth-quarter run, yet the game noticeably changed when he entered.

However, with another major comeback the Suns are starting to solidify themselves as a plucky team that can be counted on to fall behind big quite often and keep coming hard.

That attitude can best be personified by Tucker and Telfair, two players who could be facing their last NBA chance this season despite being young enough to spend many more years in the league.

If they continue to play as hard as they did tonight, that possibility will soon sound ridiculous.

“I thought we played extremely hard,” Gentry said. “I love the fact that this team doesn’t give up. They won’t give up, they’ll keep working hard, they’ll try to get back in.”

And 1

The Suns played their first overtime game of the season tonight after going all of 2011-12 without one. … The Bulls improved to 7-1 against Phoenix since drafting Derrick Rose. … Telfair scored 17 points, his third such game since joining the Suns. … Scola recorded his second 20-10 game as a Sun and is averaging 19.0 and 10.7 over his last three. Not bad for an amnesty guy. … Morris suffered through another rough shooting night, missing 9 of 12 shots. He’s shooting 31.7 percent on the season, just better than Beasley’s 35.1 percent. Beasley has made more than half his shots only once all season, while Morris has yet to accomplish that feat. … Telfair flashed his athleticism tonight when he hurdled Nate Robinson while closing out before the diminutive Bulls guard drove to the cup.

Tags: Luis Scola P.j Tucker Sebastian Telfair

  • bill.thomas

    It looks like it was a seesaw battle in which we acquitted ourselves fairly well, but they got the drop on us in OT and got too much of a lead. My impression from following the game online is that we were very weak with our defense in stretches of the game and if we’d just found a way to clamp down a few more times, we would have taken this one.

    It looks like they bottled up Dragic pretty well. We should be looking for him to pass more than to score, both if possible but 5 assists in 31 minutes means something was wrong. Coaches need to point out in-game adjustments to make when our offense is not working as designed. We cannot be out-coached by Thibideau and win.

    I can’t say enough for Bassy but in his shooting I think he needs to confine himself to the 3 and to very close in shots.

    I don’t know about the shot selection generally but Chicago was not blocking many shots yet Shannon and Mike took a ton of shots while not connecting. Film needs to be looked at here. Mike is good in other aspects of his game like being a point forward but needs to rebound a bit more so we can afford to keep him on the court longer. Maybe someone needs to work with these two on the angles they’re employing when confronted with defenders, their shot mechanics, or whatever. I do not believe we have a qualified shooting coach on staff. I wonder if the Lakers would allow Nash to moonlight.

    I have a feeling that a fatigue factor may be involved with misses by Goran and Shannon, in which case they should just start drinking and smoking whatever Luis is using, as the last time I checked, he is about 8 years older than them.

    If Jermaine can’t play meaningful minutes immediately (IMMEDIATELY), we need to bring back Solomon Jones or bring in someone like Sean Williams. Markieff is not Chucky Hayes.

  • jones

    “It looks like they bottled up Dragic pretty well. We should be looking for him to pass more than to score, both if possible but 5 assists in 31 minutes means something was wrong.”

    “Maybe someone needs to work with these two on the angles they’re employing when confronted with defenders, their shot mechanics, or whatever. I do not believe we have a qualified shooting coach on staff.”

    I agree.

  • jones

    “It might be unfair to pin all of this on the former No. 2 overall pick when perhaps other players were spent from the fourth-quarter run, yet the game noticeably changed when he entered.”

    There should be no “might” in that statement. It is patently unfair.

    We played a couple of minutes before Beasley got in the game. We couldn’t make a single basket.

    No one else besides Beasley really made any baskets in our OT.

    He’s far from the reason why we lost or sucked in OT.

  • Andres

    This team really needs Scola to spend more minutes on the court and that showed last night. As soon as he fouled out last night during OT the Suns lost the battle on the boards and looked less confident.
    Overall it was an exciting game to watch with the exception of the 3rd Q.
    On another note I really liked a play that was made by Dragic and Gortat in the 1st Q where Dragic sent an almost full court long pass to Gortat to score an easy layup with 18 secs left in the shot clock to put the Suns up 27-25. That reminded me the plays the team used to do during the SSOL era. They definitely could use more of that at times!

  • John

    I am sensitive to the fact that there was a death in the family but I don’t ever recall an NBA player missing this amoint of time due to that reason. I lost my father suddenly two years ago and missed just a few days of work. When Scola fouled out, I knew the game was more than likely lost. You can’t lose that much talent and size and expect to be able to compete with that Bulls team. I’m still at a loss as to why everyone wanted rid of Lopez this year. I know what his shortcomings are but he has size and played well last year. He would make a huge difference on this team. We have to have some immediate help at the 5.

  • A-ROCK

    Fropez last night had 5 Pts., 3 PF, 1 TO, and 1 Reb and shot 2-5 from field in 21 minutes. ~shrug~ no hard feelings he’s a wash!

  • john

    I didn’t get the chance to watch the game last night again, but I noticed the Suns dug themselves a huge hole again. After not watching, it’s impossible for me to completely accurately place blame, but when it has happened 8 of 9 games so far (double digit deficits), I have to believe Gentry is a pretty bad coach.

    I could not possibly imagine Popovich letting another team go on a run of easy baskets without calling a timeout and drawing up a sure-fire winner to halt the momentum of the opposing team. Pops will call a timeout after ONE basket by the opposing team if it’s bad enough, for goodness’ sake. Again, I can’t say for sure if a big Bulls run happened last night, but I’m guessing it did, because you don’t just get down by 18 on accident. Gentry needs to do a better job of managing games.

  • sun also rises

    I was hoping for a good game, and that was what we got…. up to a point. I have to admit I was amazed at how big a difference losing Scola made in not only the team’s ability to defend but also their HEART. It was like the guy got bounced and everybody else kept expecting him to someone get a bonus foul and come back in.

  • Ty-Sun

    As for Lopez, I didn’t want him gone because he wasn’t a good player but he he would have still been the Suns’ backup center and the money it would have cost to keep him on the team just wasn’t worth it.

    According to ESPN he’s making $4.9 mil this season and I assume that number will increase every season according to his new contract with NO. $5-6 mil a season for a backup center is just too expensive for the Suns especially if they are hoping to sign a player that could demand a max contract deal.

    Yes, there aren’t really any players like that coming up next year in the FA market that I would want the Suns to aggressively go after but you never know when an opportunity might come out of left field as it did for Houston a few days before the start of the season.

  • Scott

    So … in empirical terms, Tucker > Beasley?

  • Victor

    Call me crazy, but NY KNICKS are thinking about trading Amar’e…. Should we be interested?

  • john


    If the price is right, I’d be interested in Amar’e. The price being right would mean that the Knicks would have to take on at least 50% of Amar’e’s salary and give up future picks before I would even think about it though.

    Translation, it would never happen if I were the Suns GM.