On a day we give thanks, let us all be thankful for the Phoenix Suns and their insistence to leave the basket unprotected all evening.
Reluctant to defend the paint or prevent a typically stagnant Chicago Bulls offense from entering into a rhythmic flow, the visiting Suns couldn’t deny the Bulls a win on their home floor on Wednesday night.
Down by nine points early in the third quarter, the more disciplined Bulls were able to use a 17-point swing to snap a four-game skid, winning 124-116.
In his best game as a Chicago Bull, Jabari Parker was influential in the win. Scoring 20 points (6-of-10 shooting), grabbing 11 rebounds and assisting on eight baskets, Parker was a team-high plus-14 in his best and most complete performance of the young season.
Unlike most games in his short Bulls tenure, Parker was consistently providing effort on defense, and more importantly, didn’t force the issue on offense, fitting in within the natural flow of the offense and finding teammates with his crafty playmaking ability:
With Parker having himself a night, life was made that much easier for Zach LaVine, who returned to the lineup after a bout with illness. Starting slow and forcing the issue early, at one point during the second quarter LaVine had only registered four points (1-of-6 shooting) and some questionable defense that brought back memories from last season.
In the second half, though, we saw the best version of LaVine emerge, with the Bulls guard controlling the outcome and taking over down the stretch. Scoring 12 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, LaVine also dished out six assists while only committing two turnovers.
As good as Parker and LaVine were, in my unbiased opinion, the game ball goes to stand-in starting point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Asked to defend Suns leading scorer Devin Booker all evening, Arcidiacono was his usual active self on defense, competing against a bigger opponent and hustling hard all over the floor, including this insane attempt at saving the ball during the first quarter:
Too bad if that guy was enjoying his beer.
To go along with his typical grit, Arcidiacono was also lights out from 3, making 4-of-6 of his shots from distance, en route to 14 points, three rebounds and three assists.
Beyond the numbers, Arcidiacono’s intensity seemed to inspire his teammates, with the Bulls having one of their better defensive performances thus far this season.
Coming into the game, the key matchup most were interested in was the battle in the middle between the two rookie centers, Wendell Carter Jr. and Deandre Ayton. Despite some gaudy box score numbers, neither big heavily influenced the outcome. In foul trouble for most of the game, Carter finished his night with 14 points and five rebounds (in 21 minutes), while Ayton posted an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double and also adding five assists.
Likely to be one of many great battles, Ayton can take home the individual matchup points.
Despite the impressive basic numbers, Ayton failed to protect the rim, often being caught in the middle of showing out high and falling back to the basket. Without rim protection stopping them at the basket, the Bulls were able to feast inside against the Suns, scoring 60 of their 124 points in the paint.
One advantage the Suns did have over the Bulls was their depth on the perimeter. Without rookie forward Chandler Hutchison, who was ruled out prior to the game due to back spasms, an already thin Bulls wing rotation was forced to play small. Off the bench, Cameron Payne saw spot minutes at backup shooting guard, pushing Antonio Blakeney up to the reserve small forward position. Thankfully for all involved, Blakeney had himself a good night, scoring 14 points (6-of-10 shooting) off the bench, largely playing within himself and with some level of control.
Joining Blakeney off the bench with a solid performance of his own was backup point guard Shaq Harrison. Waived earlier in the season by the Suns, Harrison was notable against his former team, posting nine points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals.
With Arcidiacono emerging as an NBA-caliber backup and Harrison performing strongly in limited minutes, it’s clear these two have earned the trust of coach Fred Hoiberg. Once Dunn recovers from his knee injury, expect both to remain in the rotation, supplanting Payne all together.
Despite ending a horrid run of blowout losses with an impressive victory, it’s important to remember who the Bulls beat. Owners of the third-worst record in the league, the Suns are a complete mess.
It’s important to apply this caveat to the win, particularly when projecting forward. As good as he was, nearing a triple-double, will Parker be this good again against better competition, or will he revert back to what we’ve seen earlier this season? Can we expect the Bulls offense to hum this well over their next four quarters?