Well that was awful.
Your Chicago Bulls fell to the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix, 129-102, even though the Suns were missing starting point guard Chris Paul and starting power forward Jae Crowder. It was the Suns’ fifth straight win over the Bulls.
Granted, the Bulls have now lost three straight games and eight of their last ten. The Bulls also allowed 125 points or more from an opponent for the second consecutive contest. We thought tonight could easily be the low point of Chicago’s post-All Star break schedule, and darn it if we weren’t right. So far, anyway.
With the loss, the Bulls fall to an underwhelming 41-29 record on the season, as Phoenix rises (ahem) to a 57-14 tally, the best in the NBA by a significant margin.
The first quarter was a relatively high-scoring affair for both sides, with the Suns leading 30-27. Booker accounted for 13 of those 30 Phoenix points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor.
Zach LaVine had an absolutely terrible night. Chicago should consider shutting him down for a few games (or, heck, the whole season, who cares), he is clearly not right and it’s frustrating to watch. He got to the line plenty, and nailed most of those looks, icing 10 of his 12 charity-stripe attempts. But he also went just 1-of-7 from the floor in 29:58 in a really depressing night. That said... the one field goal he did manage to pull off was this sick dunk in the first:
In the second quarter, the Suns started off hot, on an 8-2 run, and managed to build out their lead to 13 by halftime. In an ominous sign of things to come in the second half, the Bulls struggled to get back in transition against Phoenix during this period.
Reserve Bulls combo guard Coby White got hot in the second. He went 3-for-3 from the field for nine points in the frame.
Coby is deep in his bag to start this one pic.twitter.com/2bSInrUrww— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 19, 2022
The Suns outscored Chicago 31-21 in the second frame, heading into the break with a lofty 61-48 edge. As K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago pointed out, the Bulls also had little defensive fight on Wednesday, when they let the Jazz drop 71 points on them in the first half of an eventual 125-110 Chicago loss.
Booker led the Suns with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting in the first half. The Suns’ All-Star shooting guard would finish with 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting and a +27 plus-minus in just 32:12.
Beyond just Booker, the Suns used a movement-heavy, balanced attack (including dribble weaves and lots of cuts) to drop the Bulls tonight, as Stacey King made sure to point out during the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast.
On the bright side, check out newly-returned Bulls backup guard Alex Caruso’s work just clamping down on Booker as the latter tries to take him one-on-one in consecutive possessions to close out the first half:
Last two possessions of the half, Booker tried to take Caruso one-on-one. pic.twitter.com/SKFhhI2gcw— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) March 19, 2022
Billy Donovan noticed, and started Caruso in lieu of Javonte Green to open the second half, matching up Caruso against Booker from the jump.
In the third quarter, Phoenix quickly built on their 13-point edge, despite some chippy defense from Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso along the perimeter early. The Suns’ advantage crept as high as 26 points in the frame (they would lead by as many as 33 in the fourth quarter). Phoenix headed into the fourth quarter with a 95-72 lead, once again having outscored Chicago by double digits in the period, 34-24.
With the game already feeling all but over, Chicago started off aggressively in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to some intense defense from Javonte Green, Caruso, and... DeMar DeRozan? The Bulls crept to within 20 points early (which honestly felt like a small victory in and of itself) in the frame, but quickly squandered offensive opportunities by settling for a variety of botched triples early in the shot clock. The Suns showed no mercy, scoring from all over the court. Cameron Payne breezed into the paint with ease, as Chicago offered little resistance down low.
Billy Donovan raised the white flag with 6:25 left, removing veterans LaVine, Caruso, DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Donovan let Dosunmu and Green play a bit longer. Monty Williams responded with 6:08 remaining, ending the nights of starters Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and Deandre Ayton.
No Bulls player scored more than 19 points, DeRozan’s total. Vucevic chipped in 16 points and seven rebounds, Coby White scored 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, and Zach had 12 points (although most of that came from the free-throw line since he made just 14.3% of his field goals) and nine assists but was a team-worst -25. Tristan Thompson also contributed 11 points, but was not the effective defender Donovan was hoping he could be, and was benched for the entire fourth quarter.
On the other side, beyond Booker, Deandre Ayton had an easy 20 points and 12 rebounds, starting point guard (ugh) Cameron Payne looked better than our starting point guard, scoring 15 points and dishing out seven assists. Starting forwards Mikal Bridges and Torrey Craig combined for 25. All told, seven Phoenix players had double digits. And again, they were missing two starters!
The Suns easily outpaced the Bulls in a variety of counting stats, from rebounds (52 to 43), three-point shooting (44% on 25 attempted triples for Phoenix, as opposed to 25.9% on 27 attempted treys for Chicago), and overall field goal shooting (56% on 84 attempts for the Suns, compared to 41.2% on 85 looks from Chicago). Phoenix also scored 11 more points in the paint than Chicago.
The Bulls got a little luck this season tonight away from this game: their next opponent, the Toronto Raptors, fell 128-123 to the terrible Los Angeles Lakers in an overtime game. At 41-29, the Bulls currently occupy the East’s fifth seed, just two games ahead of the seventh-seeded Raptors (39-31).
Here’s an idea for Billy Donovan going forward: as long as Lonzo remains sidelined, it’s time to start Alex Caruso somewhere.
Maybe AC could run point instead of Ayo Dosunmu. Or perhaps at combo forward over Javonte Green, which he did in the second half tonight. Caruso is the Bulls’ fourth-best healthy player. He deserves to start. Caruso looked a lot like his pre-wrist injury self tonight, much like he did during the Bulls’ most recent victory, a 101-91 win against a good Cavaliers team last Saturday. Something needs to change for this porous Chicago defense.
Again, it may behoove the Bulls to shut down Zach for a bit. It’s not particularly fun to see him struggle like this.
Things are getting bleak for Chicago. The Bulls will next play the Raptors and the Bucks. It sounds like another five-game losing streak (which would be the team’s second in the space of a 25-day period) could be in the cards.
The Bulls’ schedule eases up a little for a few contests after the Bucks game, with road games against the Pelicans, Cavaliers, Knicks and Wizards. Following that somewhat winnable stretch, the team could very easily end its season with yet another five-game losing streak, as its final schedule features games against the Heat, Bucks, Celtics, Hornets and Timberwolves.
After a red-hot start and just the best vibes this fall, Chicago looks likely to finish the 2021-22 season as a play-in team. I can’t believe it. Fire the medical staff?
I suggest everyone go take a good long Silkwood shower.