Tuesday, August 16

Phoenix Suns impose will on Bulls in strong road victory


The Phoenix Suns will rarely fail to impress you.

Their latest win, No. 43 on the year at a final score of 127-124, was another example of that.

Phoenix entered the third quarter already coming off one of its better halves of the season, at a 67-49 edge in Chicago on Monday against a 33-20 Bulls team still with their Big 3 of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

After a Deandre Ayton hook shot went down in the early third quarter to put Phoenix up 20, the Suns answered a Bulls basket with excellent ball movement off a trap of Devin Booker for Booker himself to knock down a 3-pointer.

That clearly deflated the Bulls.

Chicago scored again only for Chris Paul to sprint the ball down the floor off the inbounds pass while noticing no one had matched up with him to drain a quick pull-up 3. A Bulls miss was followed by zero Bulls finding Booker in semi-transition , giving the All-Star enough time to take a dribble to himself wide-open in the corner before converting on the Suns’ third 3-pointer in less than 60 seconds.

The Bulls finally called a timeout down 25, clearly beat down by a tremendous offensive effort against what has been the league’s worst defense the last month.

Yes, it was only at the 6:59 mark of the third quarter, but the game was over there. Even if Chicago was able to muster up enough to make it a game again, which it did midway through the fourth quarter, the Bulls showed they had already been mentally defeated. You can’t get that back because of a 26-13 run.

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That’s impressive.

The Bulls (33-21) had almost all of that spurt go through DeRozan and LaVine. That All-Star duo hit tough shots on their own outside of any team offense to get Chicago within nine at 5:56 remaining.

“Those guys scored but it was a tough whatever it was tonight between those two guys … A lot of it was off the bounce, fades — shots like that,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “You don’t like them when they go in but if you can wear guys out in that environment and nobody else is touching the ball, I think it gives you somewhat of an advantage.”

Those individual pushes were never going to threaten the Suns, who quickly neutralized any Bulls momentum with a 10-4 run in the next two-and-a-half minutes to ice the game.

Phoenix (43-10) was up 12 with 1:12 to go before both teams had pulled their starters and a bizarre 9-0 run for the Bulls made the final score a misrepresentation of the one-sided game that had just taken place.

The Bulls were without a fair share of players: Lonzo Ball (left knee), Alex Caruso (right wrist), Derrick Jones Jr. (right finger) and Patrick Williams (left wrist) are all absences that can be felt specifically with how Chicago you have struggled to defend lately.

Devin Booker was the man on Monday night, scoring 16 of his 38 points in the first quarter. That’s the type of barrage we’ve grown accustomed to from the Suns to allow them to control a game early but we were not used to the other one.

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Part of that from Booker came when Chris Paul checked out for a rest with a little under four minutes remaining in the first quarter. The 36-year-old Point God was then able to take a rest of nearly 10 in-game minutes thanks to a strong showing from his backup Elfrid Payton and a 33-17 stretch for the Suns as a whole.

Those breaks for Paul have been few and far between this year, even more so lately because of injuries holding out Cam Payne (right wrist sprain) and Landry Shamet (right ankle sprain).

Paul exited with his squad up two and an 18-point cushion was there waiting for him when he checked back in. Williams shouted out the Suns’ defense specifically in that second quarter as a real turning point.

Payton had eight points, four rebounds and four assists in 18 minutes. It was the most locked in he’s looked with the Suns’ offensive principles, a style of play that thrived against a bad Bulls defense that was late on their rotations off aggressive schemes.

Phoenix produced 31 assists and shot 54.4% from the field.

DeRozan was 16-of-27 from the floor for 38 points while LaVine added 32 with eight assists on 9-of-20 shooting. Booker was 14-of-23 for his 38 points. Paul finished with 19 points and 11 assists. Four other Suns were in double figures.

“We played our tails off tonight,” Williams said. “Played against one of the best scoring duos in the NBA. Those guys got their points but we did a really good job on everybody else.”

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