Jan 22, 2024; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) makes the go ahead basket over Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams (44) and Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso (6) during the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Bulls narrowly lost to the Phoenix Suns 115-113 on Monday night, in perhaps their most exciting game of the year.
In the first half, the Bulls ball movement was as good as it has been all season. They built up a 23-point lead by getting stops, running, making extra passes and hitting 7-of-14 threes en route to 37 points in the first quarter. They strung together 17 first half assists on 28 made baskets and held the Suns to 46 percent shooting and 3-of-14 on threes.
Led by Kevin Durant, the math came back around for the Suns in the second half, as they chipped away and took control down the stretch.
Here’s how it happened:
Kevin Durant’s greatness
43 points. 50 percent shooting. 40 percent on threes. Six rebounds. Eight assists.
Kevin Durant was sensational.
With 30 of his 43 points coming in the second half and 17 coming in the fourth quarter, Durant’s high degree-of-difficulty shot making was breathtaking. It didn’t really matter the coverage. The Bulls threw Patrick Williams at him. They threw Alex Caruso at him. They sent doubles. They met him at the point of the screen. They rotated out to contest him after forcing him to give up the ball.
None of it mattered.
He beat closeouts and finished at the rim. He shot over contests. He hit tough post fadeaways. He hit kickout threes after offensive rebounds. And it all culminated in this double-clutch dagger that didn’t even touch the net.
The Bulls defended this really well. Alex Caruso stayed with him and got a great contest from behind. Patrick Williams recognized that Durant had a step on Caruso and cut off the drive. They defended it so well Durant had to adjust his shot mid-air.
Still made it.
Coby White’s handles
Coby White was the second-best player on the floor tonight and the best Bull. An assist shy of a triple-double, White finished with 26 points on terrific efficiency (10-of-14 from the field, 4-of-5 on threes), with 10 rebounds and nine assists. He looked every bit the part of a star going up against the Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal-led Suns.
White is obviously an elite three-point shooter, but he’s leveraging that in new ways of late. Though his improved ball handling is well documented, he’s throwing in new tricks to get driving lanes.
Because of how dangerous White is as an off-the-bounce shooter, defenses are constantly worried about him pulling up. They’ve got to be ready to get a contest up, and White knows it.
Hanging his dribble and using a head fake, he’s able to keep his dribble alive, get defenders to jump, and blow by them.
Final play calling
Since the ball didn’t go in on the Bulls final attempt, there was plenty of frustration about the play call.
First, the Bulls had the ball on the opposite sideline, where they ran a lob play for Patrick Williams at the rim. He drew a loose ball foul, so no free throws were awarded. Clearly, Billy Donovan is open to trying new things.
On the second try, DeRozan got off a one-legged fall-away shot that nearly banked in.
White sets the down screen for DeRozan, hoping to get Grayson Allen switched onto him instead of Durant. But the Suns didn’t switch, and Durant got a nice contest on DeRozan’s leaner.
Having led the team in scoring, and having scored 10 points already in the fourth quarter, many fans wanted to see White get a look at a catch-and-shoot three in this situation.
Who knows what other options were on this play design. With just 1.6 seconds on the clock, there wasn’t enough time to clear out the floor and create a shot. Donovan clearly wanted to put the ball in the hands of his proven closer and live or die with the result. No protests from me.
Andre Drummond got a bit chippy with reserve big Drew Eubanks in the third quarter. Drummond got called for a technical foul, which kickstarted the Suns run. The Bulls backup finished with just six points and five rebounds in 11 minutes.
Alex Caruso had himself a night. With 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting (5-of-11 threes), he defended his ass off against Durant. He had three blocks and made life more difficult than Durant’s 43 points would suggest.
Unsung stalwart Nikola Vucevic continues to be crucial for the Bulls ball movement. Finishing with 19 points on 9-of-17 shooting, with 17 rebounds (five offensive) and seven assists, Vucevic helped keep the offense humming in spite of his 1-of-5 three-point shooting night. Vucevic now has 26 assists in his last five games.
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