Billy Donovan got weird with his lineups as the shorthanded Bulls traveled to Phoenix to face the red-hot Suns on Wednesday. With Zach LaVine, Coby White and Garrett Temple all out, Donovan started big with Tomas Satoransky, Patrick Williams, Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Vucevic. The Bulls used their size to their advantage on the glass by grabbing 18 offensive boards to help generate 18 more shot attempts, and they had their chances late in this one after going down by 16 in the third quarter. Unfortunately, as per usual, they couldn’t finish the job against a quality team and dropped their fifth game in a row, 121-116.
The Bulls’ weird lineup actually got off to a strong start, with Markkanen looking as aggressive as ever after getting benched last game. He attacked the rim with ferocity offensively and even hit the boards hard, going for 10 points and five rebounds in the first quarter while even taking five free throws. The Bulls led 26-21 before a six-point possession by the Suns (thanks to a Daniel Theis flagrant foul on a 3-point make) flipped the momentum. Cameron Payne looked like he was going to be on some #REVENGEGAME nonsense helped get the Suns to 39 points at the end of the first quarter, but a long Denzel Valentine trey made it 39-37 after one as both teams shot the hell out of the ball.
The Suns started to really exert their will in the second quarter as the Bulls’ shooting started to tail off, with Devin Booker continuing to roast from the field to get to 22 points by halftime. Chicago’s work on the offensive glass helped create some extra scoring opportunities, but it was still a 67-58 game at halftime.
It felt like the floodgates were going to open to start the second half, and for a moment there they did as the Suns ran out to an 81-65 advantage with 7:40 to play in the third quarter. Booker and Chris Paul were just toasting the Bulls from mid-range, with no apparent answer in sight. But then Chicago started forcing some turnovers, and Nikola Vucevic really got going offensively. Vucevic had 12 of his team-high 24 points in the third quarter, with Williams and Valentine also providing a lift. Booker’s magnificence (14 points in the quarter) kept the Bulls at bay as they closed to within five points a few times, and it was an eight-point game heading into the final frame.
Chicago continued to battle the rest of the night, and there were certainly opportunities to win this game. There were a few killer sequences:
- With the Bulls down four midway through the fourth, Vucevic got called for a foul on Booker and then picked up a technical foul, resulting in three points at the line for the Suns star.
- After a Vucevic triple made it a four-point game again with just over five minutes to play, Deandre Ayton scored, Daniel Theis bricked an ill-advised triple and Chris Paul scored an and-1, though CP3 did miss the free throw.
- After the Bulls got it back to four with just over four minutes to play, Williams was called for a foul on Booker shooting a 3-pointer, leading to three more points at the charity stripe.
- In a four-point game with just under three minutes to play, Valentine missed two wide-open 3-pointers in a row and Young missed a close shot all on the same possession.
- With the Bulls down three and under a minute to play, Booker blew by Vucevic to score his 44th and 45th points of the game. On the ensuing Bulls possession, Valentine turned it over to seal the loss.
It’s hard to be too upset given this kind of effort against an elite team while shorthanded. Still, this game was there for the taking, and the Bulls just haven’t been able to take these games against quality competition. It’s more disappointing than anything.
The Bulls nearly won this game despite shooting just 43.4% overall and 11-of-33 from 3 compared to 56.8% overall (Booker and Paul combined for 64 points on 24-of-37 shooting) and 11-of-25 from 3 for Phoenix. Chicago had that huge rebounding advantage and only committed 10 turnovers. The Bulls really should have scored more second chance points, but they only managed 14 despite the 18 offensive boards.
Three Bulls scored in double figures, with Vucevic’s 24 and 10 leading the way. Young had a terrific all-around game, going for 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Markkanen was the third double-double, but his 16 and 10 is certainly disappointing after that big start. He only shot 5-of-13 from the field and 2-of-8 from 3-land. This game was basically the Lauri Markkanen experience in a nutshell.
Valentine finally broke out of his slump to contribute 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes off the bench. But as often is the case with him, too much Denzel wound up hurting Chicago after he helped get them back in the game. He missed his final four shots to finish 8-of-18 from the field and 3-of-9 from 3 and committed the backbreaking turnover.
Ending on a good note, Williams had 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 2-of-3 from 3. While he was routinely torched by Booker, that was a super unfair matchup for him. The rookie had his few moments of glory against Booker, and he also did this to Ayton:
Pretty cool stuff.
The Bulls are now 19-27 and will face the league-best Jazz on Friday.