The Chicago Bulls played hard and won by playing their game. The Suns didn't force the issue for more than a few minutes at a time. Clock minutes, that is.
When the Suns tried to push back in the third quarter, they got themselves in trouble with the refs and gave the Bulls a ton of free throws on shooting fouls and techs - 13 free throws in the third quarter alone.
In the fourth, the Bulls made the big shots and the Suns didn't. It was the Bulls night.
When Joakim Noah makes a face up jumper with a man on him, you know it's the Bulls' night.
When Jimmy Butler makes threes, it's the Bulls' night.
When Joakim Noah makes the drive to the left, almost loses the ball, throws up half shot half hook prayer that banks in from 15 feet out, it's the Bulls' night.
The Phoenix Suns came out playing like they were still in practice, while the Chicago Bulls came out playing like they were embarrassed by a bad team the night before. It was quickly a 17-6 lead for the Bulls before 8 minutes had passed. Yes the Suns only had 6 points in the first 8 minutes of the game, settling for (and missing) jumpers.
Only Goran Dragic was playing with fire - even leading the Suns with 4 rebounds early despite being the smallest player on the court.
The Suns missed 12 of their first 16 shots while the Bulls made 8 of 18. But even worse, the ball was like a hot potato to the Suns, unable to secure it cleanly or take controlled shots.
Somehow, the Suns only scored 13 points in the entire first quarter. Luckily, the Bulls aren't very good on offense or the game would be a lot worse. Some credit has to be given to the Bulls' defense for this lead (21-13) against the league's second best offense in the last 10 games. But really, the Suns were just missing shots by not going up strong.
12-13 Chicago after one.
The Suns bench got a jump start with Miles Plumlee in for Alex Len's minutes after Plumlee only played 6 ineffective minutes in the first. Nazr Mohammad.
The Morrii tried to play a little Bro Ball and got embarrassed. Over and over, Marcus fed the ball in to Markieff, despite Markieff being defended by the Bulls best defender in Gibson. Not a smart play there.
I said before the game that the key would be the Morrii. So far, no good for Suns. The Morris brothers really started poorly, even trying to play brother ball right into the teeth of the Bulls second-unit defense.
Yet the Suns stayed close, and Markieff Morris used all those possessions to help keep the Suns in it with 6 points and 2 rebounds in the early stages of the second Q.
Hey guess what happens when you let a team play their own game? Yeah, you guessed it.
The Suns starters were especially gawd awful in the first half, missing 19 of their 26 shots and committing 7 turnovers. That's 7 scores out of 33 possessions. U.G.L.Y.
Bulls up 44-33 at half.
The Suns came out firing in the second half - as if they all shared a Red Bull or 10, scoring 13 points on 6 possessions to match their entire first quarter output.
Channing Frye came out firing from outside, a complete reversal of the first quarter. He missed his first four outside shots in the game, but made his first three in the third.
The Suns quickly cut the Bulls lead to 6 and had two chances to cut it to three, but then just couldn't convert. Suddenly, the Bulls lead was back to 11 despite the Suns still playing their butts off.
I'm not someone who calls out the refs, but these refs were really really bad in this quarter. From cheap Ts to no-calls to phantom calls, the refs fought back hard.
At least the crowd really got into it.
Through it all, the Bulls held a 6 point lead despite the Suns best efforts (65-59) and carried that lead into the fourth quarter.
Bulls lead, 69-63 at end of three.
Again, the Suns tried to come back, getting within 5 on a three by Frye, but the Bulls pushed it right back to 9. The Suns missed 3 layups and a putback slam attempt in the process.
The Bulls pushed it to 12 pretty quickly on a shooting foul and three-point field goal while the Suns kept missing shots (and giving up possession).
This just wasn't the Suns game. Every time the Suns pulled the lead down to 4 or 6, the Bulls made a big shot.
Still, the Suns wouldn't go away. They cut it to 4 with 1:46 to play (93-89).
But then Boozer bullied his way to the hoop and the game was basically over.
Not the Suns night.
The streaking Phoenix Suns host the once-streaking Chicago Bulls on NBATV in a matchup of teams making lemonade out of lemons after losing their regular point guard early in the season.
The Bulls are what they are: defense first, offense only because they have to, and pace be damned. But that's worked for Tom Thibodeau's team since he left Boston several years ago.
Since winning their first post-Deng game over the Phoenix Suns in Chicago, the Bulls won 9 of 13 games before dropping their last two on this road trip to the Pelicans and the Kings.
A sure sign of how a defensive scheme can make any player look good, the Bulls somehow have the league's second-best defense despite giving big minutes to Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and undersized D.J. Augustin. That says a lot about coach Thibodeau's schemes and Noah/Gibson/Butler defensive chops.
Fifth year point guard D.J. Augustin has enjoyed one of the best stretches of play in his career, putting up 20 points and 6 assists a game over the 10 games before Monday night's loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Rookie Tony Snell has gotten a lot of run as the team's third best 3-point shooter behind Augustin and Dunleavy.
While the Suns have won 8 of 10, including their last five straight, the offense has been awesome - ranking second in the league over the past 10 games in points-per-possession.
But the defense has taken a hit. Partially, that's because many of these 10 games have been blowouts leading to ragtag 4th quarters where the opponents backups rack up points to cut the lead from 20 to 10.
But overall, that's a symptom of the Suns of old coming back. The better the offense, the less you have to worry about getting stops on defense. The Suns focus on the defensive end wanes as the game goes on and the lead extends. This is great while you're actually getting the lead, but could be a bad habit hard to break once the opponents get better and the leads are more tenuous (if there at all).
Chicago represents the kind of team that's given the Suns fits all season: defense oriented, slow pace and great with rebounding. Let's see how the Suns respond.
The key matchup in this game will be the Bulls' bigs Noah, Boozer and Taj Gibson against the Suns' bigs Plumlee, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris. The Suns need every one of their guys to play big and strong. If they can keep it close on the glass and reduce the Bulls' second chance points, the Suns can win the rest of the matchups.
In the last matchup, leading rebounder Boozer didn't even play while Noah and Gibson combined for 6 more rebounds (26) than Frye, Plumlee and Morris pulled down together (20) as the Suns were outrebounded 50-41 overall.
Another interesting matchup is a walk down memory lane: D.J. Augustin was taken 9th as the third-best point guard in the 2008 draft where Goran Dragic was taken 45th. While Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook have proven their lofty draft status, no other PG has produced as much as Dragic. Augustin has bounced from team to team since his rookie deal expired after 4 years in Charlotte.
Augustin put up 13 points and 9 assists in the last matchup in Chicago, vs. Dragic's 21 points and 2 assists.
I do believe the Suns win this one. They are so confident right now, and playing at home always helps the shot drop a bit better. The Suns will need to make shots but more than anything they need to fight on the glass.
This game is on NBATV, much closer to "national" than a regular game. While NBATV is not on as many cable packages as ESPN or TNT, it's more accessible than league pass for many.
Here's hoping the Suns show the nation why they are one of the league's best teams tonight, and Dragic shows why he's an All-Star.