Bulls start quick, hang on late to beat Suns

Bulls start quick, hang on late to beat Suns
February 4, 2014, 10:15 pm
Share This Post

PHOENIX—Coming off arguably their poorest performance of the season Monday night in Sacramento, the Bulls (24-24) bounced back Tuesday night to hold off the Suns (29-19), 101-92, at U.S. Airways Arena. 

All-Star center Joakim Noah (14 points, 14 rebounds) started out the game as if he was grateful that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver opted to only fine him $15,000 and not suspend him for verbal abuse of the officials the previous evening. Noah and the Bulls’ other current subject of attention, Carlos Boozer (19 points, 12 rebounds), helped the Bulls build an early cushion with a high-energy start to the contest.

While the Suns utilized their depth to get a variety of contributions, the Bulls’ stifling defense, ability to keep their fast-paced hosts out of transition, solid ball security and overall control of the pace led to a 21-13 lead after one frame.

Phoenix was able to narrow the gap early in the second quarter, scoring the period’s first seven points. The Bulls responded, however, as the effective play of Jimmy Butler (18 points) and a strong effort from the second unit resulted in a double-digit advantage. Backup big man Markieff Morris ensured that the Suns continued to put pressure on their guests, but Bulls reserve counterparts Taj Gibson, point guard D.J. Augustin (18 points) and rookie swingman Tony Snell also provided a lift to keep the Bulls’ winning margin comfortable.

Active big men Miles Plumlee and three-point specialist Channing Frye (18 points) helped the home team survive woeful first-half shooting from its starting backcourt of Gerald Green and perceived Western Conference All-Star snub Goran Dragic (24 points), though the Bulls would go into the intermission ahead, 44-33.

Phoenix’s up-tempo offense lived up to its billing after the break, as Dragic got going and the game evolved into a close-knit affair. Just as the Suns seriously threatened to take full control of the contest, the Bulls were bailed out by the timely scoring of Duke products Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr., (11 points) enabling them to maintain some breathing room.

Dragic and Kirk Hinrich got entangled on back-to-back possessions with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter—the first play was a Hinrich offensive foul, the second resulted in a technical on Dragic—and while it wasn’t as if that sparked the Bulls, the game certainly slowed down to their tempo after the incident, partly due to uneven officiating overshadowing the action on the floor. But the Bulls were able to maintain their edge and heading into the final stanza, they held a 69-63 advantage.

The Bulls managed to gradually build a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter, as clutch long-distance shooting from Augustin, a renewed commitment to defense and the interior play of Noah and Gibson propelled the squad. The Suns didn’t let up, however, as the guard duo of Dragic and veteran Leandro Barbosa—the former Sixth Man of the Year and ex-Sun was a midseason acquisition after playing professionally in his native Brazil—cutting it to a four-point game heading into the game’s stretch run.

Butler and Noah came up with some clutch buckets, but Phoenix kept coming and the Bulls clinging to a 93-89 lead with less than two minutes to go. Boozer, on the court late in the game, made a tough layup with 1:43 left to extend the Bulls’ advantage and while the Suns continued to make pushes, the Suns couldn’t make much headway in their ultimately failed comeback.