I was really curious to see how the Bulls came out and played against a good Suns team less than 24 hours after the trade of Luol Deng. The Bulls cratered in the immediate aftermath of Derrick Rose's injury, and one had to wonder whether the same would happen with the trade of such a beloved teammate in Deng.
Naturally, the exact opposite happened, with the Bulls putting forth an inspired effort that would make No. 9 proud in a 92-87 victory. The Bulls did catch a few breaks with the Suns having some travel issues and young stud Eric Bledsoe being sidelined, but it's not like Chicago isn't dealing with adversity of their own.
While I'm fully embracing a tanking effort, performances like this show just how difficult (or maybe impossible) it'll be unless there are a string of major injuries to key players. The Bulls' defense is probably second-best in the league to only the Pacers, and with proud players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler around, there will be no quit in these guys. And need I mention the defiance of the coach? The offense will be bad enough at times to lose a good amount of games, and they almost blew it tonight with poor execution down the stretch, but the defense is just too good for them to be really bad.
The Bulls got strong performances from all over the place. Noah flirted with a triple-double again with 14 points, 16 rebounds and six assists. Gibson had 19 points and 10 rebounds in place of the still-injured Carlos Boozer. Butler really struggled with his shot, going just 4-of-18, but he did other so many other little things that he wasn't a negative out there. Off the bench, Tony Snell had 12 points on seven shots and D.J. Augustin continued to resemble a competent point guard with 13 points and nine assists.
And as for that aforementioned Bulls defense? They held the Suns to 40.2 percent shooting and 6-of-23 from three-point land. The Bulls also dominated the boards, outrebounding the Suns 50-41 and grabbing 14 offensive boards in the process.
The pace favored the Suns early, but the Bulls' offense was humming along thanks to some strong ball movement. Noah was on triple-double watch almost immediately, and the Bulls racked up eight assists in the first quarter (26 for the game).
The Bulls opened up an eight-point lead in the second quarter, but one of their patented scoring droughts allowed the Suns to get back in the game, and it looked like perhaps Phoenix would start to run away with things. The Suns took a 46-42 lead at one point late in the quarter before the Bulls closed out the half with a flourish.
The Bulls controlled the game in the third quarter as the Suns went into a deep freeze offensively, and they threatened to turn the game into a blowout early in the fourth thanks to some hot shooting from Snell. I was really disappointed to not see more Snell in place of Kirk Hinrich down the stretch as the offense sputtered, just to see Snell get some reps playing in crunch time. Predictably, Hinrich then knocked down a dagger three after the Suns got within four.
So that's six wins in eight games and the schedule will remain rather easy over the next few weeks. Even without Deng, the tank is sputtering.