Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 10:58 p.m.
No Derrick Rose? No problem.
At least that was the case Tuesday night, as the Bulls (13-3) placed all five starters in double figures scoring and cruised to an easy 118-97 rout over the Suns (4-9) at the United Center.
For the second consecutive game, Carlos Boozer (31 points, six rebounds) came out of the gate as an assertive scorer, perhaps knowing his responsibilities were greater with the absence of Rose.
He had help, however, as C.J. Watson (23 points, five assists) filled in capably for the Bulls sidelined superstar and Joakim Noah (13 points, 12 rebounds) appeared to be breaking out of his funk, knocking down a pair of his patented Tornado jumpers.
I thought we had a lot of guys play well. I thought Joakim was great to start the game, very active, going after every ball, hustling, knocked down a couple shots. Of course, Carlos was on fire to start and to C.J.s credit, how hard he worked coming back, particularly on his conditioning, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I loved the way the ball hopped. The ball was not sticking anywhere. Once we got into a rhythm, we were able to knock some shots down.
Phoenixs fast pace, propelled by former two-time MVP Steve Nash (25 points, nine assists) the last point guard to win the leagues MVP award before Rose, Nashs elite scoring and playmaking were on full display early on actually benefited the Bulls, who wanted to get back to running in transition after playing at a slower tempo as of late.
Phoenix plays with a pace, so the game is going to be faster. I thought Nash put incredible pressure on us early in the game. Its amazing what hes doing at his age, said Thibodeau. Our defense obviously, we need work. I loved our offense. I thought the pace was great.
Rip Hamilton (11 points, six assists), back in the lineup after missing eight consecutive games, was an important factor in the Bulls building a comfortable cushion the veteran shooting guard was a scoring presence and also a playmaker, something needed without Rose available and the Bulls held a 39-31 advantage after a high-scoring opening period.
Rip really was terrific, not so much with his shooting, as much as his playmaking, said Thibodeau. Just having Rip, it gives you another primary option.
Added Noah: Rip is huge because hes a great passer very underrated part of his game and he really demands a lot of attention offensively, just with his ability to shoot the ball, so I think the more we play together, the better well be and its good to have him out there.
Chicagos offense was clicking on all cylinders Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could take pride in his teams protection of the basketball, if not how many points it allowed as the home teams gaudy field-goal percentage reflected its efficiency.
Beyond the aggressive Watson, who was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor in the first quarter, the Bulls got a significant contribution from Boozer, who knocked down mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper against the porous Suns defense.
I thought we really made plays for each other. I thought we made the easy play, said Hamilton. We didnt really take any difficult shots and when youre doing that, everybody out there is having fun.
More significantly, the heavily-scrutinized post tandem of Noah and Boozer appeared to be extremely cohesive, as the charismatic centers high activity level meshed beautifully with the power forwards deft outside touch. Thibodeau was so confident in his squads first-half performance that in the waning moments of the second period, after the lead had ballooned to a 20-point gap it was 67-47 in the Bulls favor, at the break rookie swingman Jimmy Butler saw some rare early action.
We knew we had to compete better than we did against Memphis. It was an embarrassing loss. Just the way we played, it wasnt right, said Noah. Just taking my shots when they were there and Rip opens up the floor a lot, as well.
Chimed in Thibodeau, weary of questions about the big-man duo: I think they do fine. I think the record speaks for itself.
I think that they played well. I think they were high energy, the ball moved freely, they were playmaking. Jo made a lot of good plays with the ball. Theyre fine, he continued. Jos timing is coming around. Hes a lot more active.
Noahs strong play persisted after the intermission a steal and coast-to-coast push for a layup opened third-quarter scoring as his energy, relentless rebounding and unique ball skills had a major impact on the contest. A 7-0 run to start the period set the tone in the lopsided affair, as the defense-less Suns could do nothing to slow the Bulls offensive rhythm, as wings Hamilton and Luol Deng (15 points, six rebounds) also got things going for the hosts.
Crisp ball movement, which often led to wide-open jumpers while Watson played point guard and facilitated at times and Deng exhibited his typical unselfishness, Hamiltons playmaking was subtly a key to the offensive flow was a marker of Chicagos success, as the high assist totals reflected. Despite Nashs continued brilliance, the Bulls took a 96-68 lead into the games final frame.
Hamilton gave credit to his backcourt partner, Watson, saying, He was awesome, he was great. C.J. did a great job. He got guys in the spots where they needed to be, he ran the offense and when he was open, he took the shot.
Concurred Noah: C.J.s a great point guard and sometimes, its hard when you play behind the MVP, but every time he gets big minutes, he steps up and hes been huge for us. Coming back from an injury like that and being able to play at a high level, its been very impressive.
With the game no longer in doubt, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry rested Nash and his other regulars, filtering in his reserves, and Thibodeau followed suit, giving Bulls reserves like backup center Omer Asik (11 points) an opportunity to get some work, since they hadnt been needed to provide additional firepower earlier in the evening.
With two days off before for their next contest, a rarity in the condensed schedule, a much-needed period of rest and the potential of Roses return loom before Friday, when the Bulls play the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
I thought we had some spurts when we played good defense and especially too, when youre going on the road, youve got to be air-tight with your defense, so thats something that we have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Fortunately for us, we have a day of practice coming.