Tonight at home in the United Center, our Chicago Bulls’ “Big Three” of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic did what they could on offense, but ultimately they couldn’t fell the beast that is the new-look Phoenix Suns, playing just their second game with Hall of Famer Kevin Durant available. Despite a close first half — which the Bulls actually led at the break — the Suns pulled away in the game’s second half, ultimately beating Chicago 125-104 as the Bulls struggled to match Phoenix’s scoring output late.
Following a robust opening quarter, during which they outscored the Bulls 40-29, the Suns saw Chicago retaliate with a high-scoring turn in the second frame.
A 16-1 Chicago run to close the first half helped the Bulls build up a marginal 64-60 halftime lead, its first advantage since the opening minutes of the contest’s first quarter. Phoenix didn’t score a single field goal through the second period’s final 4:55. Chicago outscored Phoenix 35-20 in the quarter.
LaVine closed out the half in style with this buzzer-beating J:
ZACH BEATS THE 2Q BUZZER— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 4, 2023
@ZachLaVine | @NBCSChicago pic.twitter.com/jE8JCHdwMX
LaVine had 17 points, DeMar DeRozan chipped in 15, and Nikola Vucevic scored 11 points and pulled down five boards through the bout’s first two quarters.
Phoenix created its inevitable separation midway through the third quarter, and despite some valiant efforts from Chicago, the game never felt particularly close the rest of the way.
That said, the Bulls’ star players sure got theirs. DeMar DeRozan had an insanely efficient night, getting to his bag and converting seemingly at will:
DeMar's got 25 on 10-of-13 pic.twitter.com/JpYWkZ5tM7— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 4, 2023
Backup center Andre Drummond proved once again that the Bulls really should have looked to upgrade his spot at the trade deadline during this hilarious sequence of (adequately defended) point-blank fails at the rim in the third quarter:
WILD sequence of events pic.twitter.com/7HR1LSz6Bz— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 4, 2023
The Suns’ lack of depth (much of which had been surrendered in its trade for Durant) was on display this evening, but it didn’t truly matter, as their top-line players got the job done.
Phoenix entered the fourth quarter leading 94-85, thanks to a 34-21 scoring edge in the third.
The Bulls’ rudderless offense was exposed as the clock wound down in the final frame, as the team was seemingly improvising my-turn, your-turn plays from DeRozan and LaVine.
No other Bull beyond the “Big Three” even scored in double figures on the night, primarily because this team’s front office in unserious about either long-term or short-term team building. At one point during the game’s critical closing minutes, the Bulls had a brutal stretch of four straight fruitless offensive sequences that essentially wrapped things up for the Suns, who went on a 15-4 scoring tear in that window.
DeRozan finished with 31 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the floor, plus six assists. LaVine notched 27 points on 8-of-21 field goal shooting. Vucevic had 13 points and nine boards.
When it comes to defensive scheming, the Bulls’ strategy proved pretty ineffective. As Will Gottlieb of CHGO Sports points out, Chicago opted to prioritize blanketing Phoenix’s four stars — in order of importance: power forward Kevin Durant, shooting guard Devin Booker, point guard Chris Paul and center Deandre Ayton — while leaving the club’s fifth starter, defensive stalwart Josh Okogie, wide open. Predictably, Okogie capitalized with a high-scoring night. In 32:02, the 6’4” small forward scored 25 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-10 shooting from deep.
The ball movement leading to the bucket @CallMe_NonStop knocks down his fifth triple on thr night. pic.twitter.com/Ezc79RETWE— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 4, 2023
With the loss, Chicago falls to a 29-35 record on the season, 2.5 games clear of the 10th-seeded Washington Wizards (30-32).
The Suns enjoyed a massive three-point shooting advantage, in takes (47-23) and makes (20-7), as is to be expected for any club paired up with this archaic Bulls team. Phoenix also handily out-rebounded Chicago 52-44.
Next up, the Bulls will get a bit of a schedule break, as they will square off at home against the sliding Indiana Pacers (28-36) during a Sunday matinee. But nothing is guaranteed for this thoroughly mediocre Chicago club.