The post-deadline era has begun for the Bulls, with the directives clear on developing their young players and seeing what can be done in the last third of the season.
And while their youth sparked them early, it was the headliners who stepped up late in their 128-121 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the United Center, as the team was clearly adjusting to life without Taj Gibson, who was traded Thursday.
Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade each had sluggish starts, to say the least. Each looked like he was going through an island-like malaise through the better part of three quarters before waking up.
Butler finally ignored the snooze button at the most opportune time, nearly winning the game in regulation with a tying triple, then a fadeaway 15-footer over Eric Bledsoe to cap off a late comeback that saw the Bulls rebound from an eight-point deficit with a few minutes left in the fourth.
Then Wade, in one of his few post-halftime mistakes, controversially fouled Suns sharpshooter Devin Booker on a triple with 1.5 seconds left, but Booker missed the last of the three free throws to send the game into overtime.
Wade and Butler continued the assault into the extra session, with Wade rising for a late flush over Suns center Alex Len and raising his arms in celebration — having put together a 23-point performance after a scoreless first half.
Butler wasn't as futile but wasn't much better, scoring just eight before the fourth but being more aggressive and assertive with his moments and jump shots, scoring 22 with nine assists and four steals.
The Suns led most of the way, mostly due to their team-wide speed and athleticism, getting out on the break the way they did in the first meeting two weeks ago. They dominated the fast-break department at a 23-10 clip, and the Bulls actually countered with 3-point shooting.
Nikola Mirotic went 4-for-7 on the way to a 20-point night, while Denzel Valentine put together his best showing as a pro with 15 points, all those coming on five made 3s.
Three straight triples for Valentine pulled the Bulls to within one late in the third quarter. The shots were decisive and confident — perhaps as he knew he wouldn't be removed for anyone at the first mistake.
There were plenty of mishaps and things to complain about as the Bulls hit a new wave, but at least it started with some positive vibes after a day of uncertainty and confusion.
On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Luke Stuckmeyer talk about the first week of spring training.
The two discuss ace contracts, leadoff intimidation and give their thoughts on the Sammy Sosa saga.
Plus CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with general manager Jed Hoyer.
Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below.