PHOENIXThings might get a bit hairy, but in the Tom Thibodeau era, the annual Circus Trip is no longer an event to be dreaded, as evidenced by the Bulls (5-3) 112-106 overtime victory over the Suns (4-5) Wednesday night at the U.S. Airways Center.
A physical contest that featured three Bulls technical fouls, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the third quarter, then squandered it as Phoenix made a dramatic comeback, but the visitors stayed resilient and held on to dominate the extra session for the win.
A fast-paced contest at the outset, Carlos Boozer (28 points, 14 rebounds) got off to another quick start, as the power forward finished at the rim, knocked down his mid-range jumper and ran the floor in transition. For Phoenix, point guard Goran Dragic (12 points) best known by Bulls fans for Derrick Roses vicious dunk on him three seasons ago, but a revelation in Houston in the previous campaign before returning to the Suns in free agency over the summer dominated play, but also got forwards and fellow offseason acquisitions Luis Scola (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Michael Beasley (12 points) involved.
The visitors were also hampered by early foul trouble for Joakim Noah (21 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and Kirk Hinrich (seven assists), the latter of whom returned to the lineup after a one-game absence due to a right hip strain, but it still remained a close-knit affair in the opening period. Through one quarter of play the Bulls held a narrow advantage, 29-27.
Sparked by All-Star Luol Deng (21 points) and reserve guards Nate Robinson (11 points) and Marco Belinelli, the Bulls maintained the teams slight edge early in the second frame. However, the Suns rode Scolas combination of jumpers and crafty interior scoring to stay within striking distance and gradually overtook their hosts, even after the majority of the Bulls starters were inserted back into the game.
Following a technical foul on Rip Hamilton (15 points), Jimmy Butler, playing only spot minutes when Deng gets one of his rare breaks, ignited a 13-0 Bulls run which included Hamiltons first missed free throw of the season after making 17 straight to begin the campaign toward the end of the half. At the intermission, the Bulls led, 57-51.
After the break, the Bulls played with the same fervor that they ended the previous period with, pushing the pace successfully without sacrificing defense to create some breathing room. After seeing his playing curtailed because of first-half foul trouble, Noah made his presence felt in the third quarter and fellow big man Boozer continued his consistent scoring efforts.
Deng also got it going en route to the visitors blowing the contest wide open even Hinrich picking up his fourth foul early in the period couldnt derail their extended spurt, as Robinson picked up the slack nicely and with the defense forcing turnovers, their transition game in gear and unselfish passing leading to quality shot opportunities, the Bulls maintained a comfortable winning margin. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were ahead, 83-69.
At the outset of the fourth quarter, the Suns attempted to battle back behind Scola and surprising contributions from the likes of reserves Sebastian Telfair (17 points), Markieff Morris (10 rebounds), P.J. Tucker (eight rebounds) and Maywood, Ill., native Shannon Brown (11 points), but timely plays from the Bulls such as a desperation three-pointer off of one leg by Deng to beat the shot clock helped stave off the hosts. Still, Phoenix continued to make a push and by the midway point of the period, it was a two-possession contest.
It seemed as if the Bulls would eke out a win in regulation, but a combination of gutty plays by the Suns beating the visitors at their own game with a physical nature and outright hustle as well as missed opportunities by the guests led to Phoenix tying the game at 100 apiece with 9.4 seconds to go on a Tucker layup. Out of a timeout, the Bulls got the ball to Hamilton for a potential game-winner, but tough defense by Brown prevented the veteran from knocking down a heavily contested and the contest went into overtime.
In the extra session, the Bulls dominated, as they clamped down on the defensive end and began executing precisely on offense. Deng started things off with a jumper and they rolled from there, as Hamilton made a pair of jumpers, Noah was a force on the glass and clutch free-throw shooting ensured that the door wouldnt be left open for another Suns comeback.