Chicago Bulls 92, Phoenix Suns 87 – Frigid start to a road trip


There are no excuses for a loss like this. Sure the weather in Chicago is ice cold. But basketball is played inside. Sure the Suns didn’t arrive in Chicago until 12:30 local time. They had plenty of opportunities to warm up in the first forty four minutes. No excuses to be had. For all the outside factors at play, the Suns fell 92-87 to the Chicago Bulls because they did not come to play against one of the toughest teams in the NBA.

Chicago is missing Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer because of injury. Earlier this morning, they traded away their leading scorer Luol Deng to Cleveland. While their depleted roster may have looked ripe for a beatdown to the Suns, Phoenix forgot one important thing: Tom Thibodeau. Tonight Thibs proved himself to be one of the best coaches in the NBA once again. Great coaches aren’t defined by their signature offenses or defenses. They aren’t defined by their personality or the amount they yell. Great coaches are defined by their ability to coach any team in whatever way it takes to win. Good teams have one dominant strategy. Great teams can play multiple strategies. Tonight the Bulls showed a totally different game plan, one that was perfectly suited to catch the Suns slipping.

Chicago ran all night long. They ran off makes. They ran off misses. They set Phoenix back on their heels and didn’t allow the Suns to get set defensively. They cut back door on possession after possession, getting easy baskets and drawing fouls. Thibs gave Taj Gibson the green light in Boozer’s absence. He had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He drew lots of contact and got the Channing Frye into early foul trouble. Gibson is another in a long line of power forwards who have had big nights against the Suns.

Defensively, Chicago was tough as always holding the Suns to just 40% shooting from the floor. Though neither team forced many turnovers, the Bulls were clearly the more engaged and active team defensively. For more on the Suns’ loss in Chicago, let’s answer our three preview questions.

Can the Suns take advantage of the wounded Bulls?

No they could not. In fact, it was the Bulls who appeared to take advantage of the Suns who were ice cold and discombobulated all night long. Chicago won every quarter but the fourth. In that fourth, the Suns cut Chicago’s 12-point lead to just four with four minutes to play, setting themselves up to possibly steal a down the stretch. But that was as close as Phoenix would get. After the teams traded fouls and misses, the Bulls used outstanding ball movement to find Kirk Hinrich for a wide open three that extended their lead to seven points with two minutes left. That bucket seemed to break Phoenix’s will and secure the win for Chicago.

It looked as though the Suns and Coach Hornacek were waiting for the shorthanded Bulls to get tired before reeling off a big run that would hand them the lead and put the game away. But the Bulls kept their energy and intensity up, never giving Phoenix an opening. Subsequently, that run never came and the Suns never held the lead in the second half. The Bulls never put this one out of reach really. They just never let their guard down and held on to win a hard fought contest. The Suns will feel like this was a lost opportunity to start their five game road trip off with a win, and that feeling is 100% right.

Can Phoenix keep Chicago off the offensive glass?

Another no. Phoenix gave up 14 offensive rebounds on the night. Chicago was aggressive on the glass, committing multiple frontcourt players to bang the offensive glass and trusting their guards not to give up too many fast break points on the other end. This strategy worked as the Suns ended the night with only 10 transition points, thanks to stellar defense by Kirk Hinrich in transition and incredible effort Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson in the paint. This was not another example of the Suns going small and living with opponents grabbing offensive boards. The Suns had Miles Plumlee, Alex Len, or Frye on the court for all 48 minutes of the game. The Chicago big men simply outworked them for rebounds. This is clearly Phoenix’s biggest weakness as a team, but it may just be something they has to live with to be offensively effective.

Will the Suns’ shooters show up?

Three-for-three on no’s. Gerald Green was hot early, but ended the night 3-for-10 from downtown. Channing Frye was in foul trouble for nearly all of the first half. He came off the bench in the second and got it going a bit, but he was too little too late. The Morris twins were hesitant from the tip, especially from downtown. Neither seemed overly eager to take catch-and-shoot threes in this game, despite the Bulls not closing out on either of them particularly hard. Both Marcus and Markieff have to shoot from deep when their open, if only to make the defense honor their shots and give the rest of their teammates space to operate. The benefit of having two players their size who can shoot from outside is that it draws big defenders out of the paint. But if the twins are hesitating, those big defenders can play a step or two off and be quicker to help when Goran Dragic drives to the hoop. This short circuits the Suns’ entire offense.

Dragic was the only Sun with a good line from downtown (2-of-3). He had a team-high 21 points in the game, but recorded just three assists. P.J. Tucker didn’t get his first look from the corner, normally bread and butter, until there were just 13 seconds left and the game was out of hand. Overall, the Suns were out of sync offensively and never seemed to get it going from downtown.

Chicago’s defense was focused on running the Suns off the three point line, and the Bulls were incredibly successful from start to finish. Phoenix ended just 6-for-23, and while just over 25% from deep isn’t abysmal, it certainly felt as though the Suns were 6-for-100 from downtown because of all the missed chances they had to shift momentum in their favor with a big three.

And 1

  1. Alex Len played for the first time in over a month. He logged six minutes, scored three points, and looked better than when we last saw him. He was aggressive, engaged, and looked as though he has progressed mentally while rehabbing his ankle.
  2. Miles Plumlee was very aggressive on both ends of the floor in this game. He ended the night with 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, but every one of his shots was a solid post move or dunk. His 22-point performance the other night seems to have emboldened him offensively, which is undoubtedly music to Coach Hornacek’s ears. Now if he can just get his free throw shooting in order, there will be nothing to stop him offensively. Plumlee also played great D on Joakim Noah, holding him to just 5-of-15 from the floor. Noah did dominate the glass however, outrebounding Miles 16-7.

Tags: Chicago Bulls Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap

  • Zack B.

    Tough game. One would think Barbosa’s ability to score would of helped. At least we cut it down to 4 and didn’t let the 13 point lead expand to 20. I had 20 bucks on this game. That makes the Bulls 2-0 against us. I have 25 on tomorrow’s game and 25 more on the Knicks game on Monday which I will be attending. Hope we can bounce back. Really hoping we get the win tomorrow, not just because I want my money back, but because it’s our first national TV game so far. We need that win, and it will be tough.

  • Animan

    Barbosa wasn’t even available for this one because of FIBA clearances, he was up in the stands for the game. We were just a bit disheveled because of the delayed flight and without knowledge of how the bulls were going to play without three stars, while also without Bledsoe, I’m okay with the suns losing by only five. Looking for the rebound against Minny!

  • Fan in Chi Town

    This was a bad loss. Minnesota is also playing a lot better lately, and unfortunately without Bledsoe and the defense not having to worry about Frye’s shot I think the Suns have a negative winning percentage on this road trip. I just hope Bledsoe can come back soon because they really miss both his defense and offense, not to mention his general quickness.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Forever….”if your schedule permits”
    LOL
    I don’t have a schedule Forever….think “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski…..the only way I miss the UofA v UCLA game is if I fall asleep…like I did tonight when I missed the Bulls v Suns.

    btw….Payne had a couple huge dunks & a clutch 3 in Michigan State’s victory over Ohio St.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    EBJM…..Yes, I would have traded Okafor + a 1st & 2nd this year & a 1st next year for Luol Deng.

    While I agree the Suns need help at the PF position, Deng is just too good to pass up….a tremendous mid-range game, a decent 3 pt shooter & a lockdown defender.
    One of the most underrated players in the NBA.

    Maybe the numbers (money) didn’t add up or McD has something bigger brewing

  • Luka

    The Suns need a PF that doesn’t suck. That’s really all there is to it.

  • Chad

    Looks like our boy Barbosa will be needed straight away. I’m becoming increasingly nervous about this road trip

  • Russell’s Suns

    Right now when either Dragic or Bledsoe is out, the Suns have only one player who can create his own shot and create for other players. We need a 3rd player like this and that was Deng!

    The Suns made a huge mistake not trading for Loul Deng now, yes they can sign him in the off season but Deng is exactly what the Suns needed.

    Deng is by far the best defensive small forward in the NBA with his long frame, and offensively he can score inside and he can hit the jump shot, more importantly he can create his own shot on offense , and he can create shots for other players as distributor.

    I love tucker but his small 6″5 frame makes him a liability against bigger small forwards, and Tucker is too inconsistent of an offensive player, he is more of hustle player.

    Thadeus Young’s name has been mentioned, make no mistake about it, while Young is good offensive player, he is not Deng, Young is one of the worst defensive small forwards in the NBA and he is too small to play Power forward, and while he does score, he scoring is not set up by his own play making he can’t create his own shot, and he doesn’t create shots for others.

    In my opinion the two missing players for the Suns are Deng and Kenneth Faried. We can still get both in the off season but I would have rather preferred to get Deng now.

  • EBJM

    After watching Christmas I see why they are bringing in Barbosa.

    I hope Len’s ankles do not become a chronic issue. I thought he showed a lot for basically his first burn of the season. He grabbed two boards in traffic and despite traveling and tripping over his feet I was impressed with his dribbling under the hoop.

    Plumlee cannot hit a shot outside of two feet to save his life.

    As far as Deng, it is interesting that McD didn’t get into the bidding since I think the Suns could have offered better draft picks. Makes you believe he is working on something bigger.

    Thaddeus Young was named the Eastern Conference player of the week. But he is an undersized “4″ despite being listed as a “3″. He measured out at 6′-5.75″ barefooted and with shoes at 6′-7.5″ but he might have grown a bit since then.

    Amare is still listed at 6′-10″ but way back when he was a youngster he measured out at 6′-8.5″ barefooted. 6′-10″ with shoes.

    Still no word on Okafor which coincides with the return of Len and the lack of bidding on Deng makes the possibility of acquiring a PF a bit auspicious.

    The interesting thing about trading with Philly is that they are farther under the cap then Phoenix. Phoenix could give up as little as the Morri or up to Okafor’s expiring contract.

    The Morri are from the Philly area and might be welcomed home in the same manner that Frye is loved by the majority in Phoenix.

    McD has something in the works, I can’t wait to see what he pulls off.

  • john

    @EBJM

    Can you say for certain McD and the Suns WEREN’T in the running for Deng?

    The return for Bynum was pretty good. I’m not really sure the Suns would have made that sweet of an offer when they needs at SF are limited (I say that meaning that Deng would have been a big improvement, but the 4 is their real place of need). I would bet the Suns were active during this whole ordeal, but were probably just not willing to part with the assets it was going to take.

    Either way, I agree that McDonough is up to something. I’m hopeful that the right deal will come along and this team can go from “a team no contender really wants to face in the first round” to a legitimate threat to make it to the WCF.

  • EBJM

    I agree with you completely John and I do not know for sure about anything McD is or isn’t doing. But it seems it doesn’t take much to get a rumor started, like Kevin Love and now Thaddeus Young.

    The complete lack of information on Okafor is interesting enough in itself. He was suppose to have been evaluated by now to see if he could be cleared to practice or not. It is almost like his evaluation is contingent on whether Len’s ankles hod up.

    I’ll give McD this, he has a great poker face. Speculation on his next move is almost as exciting as watching the Suns. This was a great week, I got Bulls-Suns and will get Wolves-Suns on cable! Of course without Bledsoe playing it is a bit of a let-down but Horny emptied his bench last night except for Slava and that was nice to see everyone else play.

  • EBJM

    More bad news for Richard Dumas. He was just arrested for organized retail theft of the Luke Air Force exchange store.

    To add insult to injury he was taken into Federal Custody at his Dumas Youth Sports Club in Litchfield Park.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    After being named Player of the Week, Thad Young went 0-7 & scored 0 pts in 22 minutes last night…
    oops

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    EBJM….Dumas was arrested back in December….I mentioned it on this website.
    Yesterday, video was released of him (allegedly) stealing items from the Luke Exchange.

  • john

    Richard Dumas. Perhaps the biggest waste of talent this city has ever seen.

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  • Foreveris2long

    Hawki, Keep your eye on the ball. I saw a little of the Michigan State game including the two handed tip in dunk by Payne where the bench went wild.

    Another game where our power forwards are not a significant positive factor.Absent a deal all we can do is ride it out. However I am on board with those of you who feel a bigger deal is imminent. I think signing Barbosa instead of giving Goodwin extra minutes is a clue the team is determined to make the playoffs.

  • http://espn.go.com/nba/stats/rpi/_/sort/SOS Bandwagon Fan

    EBJM, you’re from Houston, I believe, what’s your thoughts about Donatas Motiejunas? He apparently wants out of Houston for some playing time? He’s not the answer this season (I don’t think) but he seems to fit the mold for a Suns offense. Miles Plum 2.0?

  • EBJM

    He is a fan favorite here, sort of a cult following. I think the best way to describe him is his game is similiar to former Sun Maciej Lampe. He is a typical European “Big” with good skills.

    But the most telling part of his development is when the Rockets were considered to be dearth of any legitimate NBA starting PFs it was Terrance Jones who picked up his game and replaced Omer Asik in the starting line-up.

    “D-Mo” isn’t even with the 2nd unit, as Omri Casspi plays as a “stretch four” along with Asik and Franciso Garcia. Even when Asik was injured and put on the trading block, D-Mo couldn’t crack the rotation despite being a seven-footer.

    As with most Europeans he has been playing since the “junior” leagues and has experienced success at every leval except at the NBA level. For the price he certainly is worth a look as he doesn’t shy from contact in the post and plays with great energy and can run the floor.

    He only costs $1.5 million this season and another $1.5 million next season. Team option for $2.2 million in ’15-’16. He is only 23 which imply’s he is still developing but as of today he is healthier and his game more developed than Alex Len.

    Wolves made him a #20 pick in ’11 and he was traded to Houston but D-Mo chose to stay in Europe. Rockets convinced him to come over the following year.

    On a young team like Phoenix I think his upside is still good and curently I think his production level would be equilivent to Frye and Markieff if not better. He plays with the energy of Plumlee but has more natural skills.

    The one thing that bothers me about him and Asik is their unwillingness to accept their roles on the team and try and do their part to win a title. If D-Mo could earn minutes away from T-Jones and Casspi, McHale would happily give him more minutes.

    But those two are easily having career years and have embraced their roles respectively. T-Jones knows how to play with Howard and is a beast, helping Howard inside and staying out of his way simultaneously.

    D-Mo is by far the most talented “big” sitting at the end of any teams bench. When he finally gets into a game he is quickly noticed because he is very active.

  • EBJM

    If McMiracle could swap Slava for D-Mo I wouldn’t be mad. Slava is a more natural center who could sit at the end of McHale’s bench as insurance. I think D-Mo might actually push Frye/Markieef to give him some burn. He could give the Suns a twin-tower seven-foot tandem with Len that would be interesting to watch.