[Welcome to Alex as our new contributor for game coverage on the site. There’s a lot of games! -yfbb]
Though the Chicago Bulls saw the returns of guards Zach LaVine and Coby White tonight, they did not prevent the team’s second loss in as many days. White had missed the Bulls’ last two games with an adductor injury, while LaVine had missed the team’s last three contests with a back issue.
Chicago fell 127-124 at home to the best team in the NBA by record, the Phoenix Suns, despite a semi-comeback effort late in the game. Thanks in large part to a strong fourth-quarter showing from DeMar DeRozan, Chicago was able to get within 10 points of Phoenix halfway through the period. The Suns held off Chicago until the game was virtually over. Some scoring punch from the Bulls’ little-used reserves yielded an unlikely 12-0 run to close out the night’s final 1:41 and make the margin look much more respectable than it had any right to be.
Bulls All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine scored a combined 70 points, but did not spread the wealth around. No other Bull scored more than 13.
After a hot shooting start from both teams (who each converted over 50% of their field goal looks in the period) led to a relatively close first quarter, the Suns pulled away in the second quarter and maintained at least a double-digit advantage (ballooning to as much as 27 points) until the game’s closing minutes, when the Bulls’ deep reserves mounted the aforementioned too-little-too-late comeback attempt.
Phoenix superstar shooting guard Devin Booker could not be stopped for most of the night, notching 38 points of his own on 60.9% shooting from the floor, which included a diverse array of slick jumpers.
The Suns’ fast-paced offense and aggressive defense confounded Chicago for much of the game. The two Bulls All-Stars frequently settled for isolation plays and did not involve their teammates in enough of their actions for a lot of the game. Chicago dished out a miserable zero assists in the second quarter.
All-Star Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan enjoyed another spectacular scoring night, looking much more athletic than he has any right to in his 13th NBA season. He scored 15 of his 38 points in the Bulls’ fourth quarter. The game really felt out of hand until Chicago was able to reduce a lead that had ballooned as high as 27 points to just a 10-point edge, 113-103, with 5:56 left in the quarter, thanks to this moment:
DeMar doing everything he can to keep this game alive pic.twitter.com/wtgXNBDyWz— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) February 8, 2022
The Suns were able to keep Chicago at bay until the game was all but out-of-reach and Chicago had effectively waved its white flag. The Bulls’ reserves mounted their fake comeback after Billy Donovan had emptied the Chicago bench in the contest’s closing minutes. Malcolm Hill scored all eight of his points in the game’s final 46 seconds. Tony Bradley and Alfonso McKinnie also helped close the seemingly unclosable gap Phoenix had carved out.
On the Zach front, Chicago’s All-Star shooting guard did not appear to miss a beat in his return, logging his 13th 30+ point game of the season. LaVine was the Bulls’ lone bright spot from long-range tonight, with plenty of pretty makes like this one:
Please respect Zach from the corner pic.twitter.com/eqBND7LpcG— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) February 8, 2022
He would finish the night going 4-of-7 from long range (57.1%), while the rest of the Bulls went a measly 6-of-19 (31.6%). He scored 32 points overall on 9-of-20 shooting from the floor and 10-of-10 shooting from deep. He also chipped in eight assists and six boards.
The Bulls’ key absences — defensive-oriented guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, plus power forwards Patrick Williams and Derrick Jones Jr. — were glaringly apparent tonight, as Chicago struggled to contain the Suns’ star guards (Chris Paul chipped in a casual 19 points and 11 dimes) and athletic front court players. Defense and passing were the two arenas where the Bulls really struggled tonight.
With the victory, the Suns rose to a 43-10 record on the year, pulling 2.5 games clear of the Warriors for the best record in the West — and in the entire NBA. With the loss, the Bulls fell to 33-21 on the year, and slid from second place in the crowded East to third, behind the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls will look to recover against another All-Star guard, LaMelo Ball, and his Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.