In just his second game with the Phoenix Suns, Kevin Durant delivered a masterful performance at the United Center Friday night.
The Chicago Bulls led at halftime thanks to a 16-1 run to close the first half and trailed by just six points with just over 9 minutes left. But the Suns ran away and hid on their way to a 125-104 blowout that dropped the Bulls two games behind the play-in race with just 18 to play.
Here are 5 observations:
1. In a nod to Durant's size, coach Billy Donovan switched his starters again, inserting Patrick Williams for Alex Caruso. It's a matchup Williams has had before. Nobody stops Durant individually, and the new Sun finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a surgical 31-minute outing.
"He is who he is," Williams said. "I think everybody in the league knows. Everybody who's not in the league knows. He's a household name. He's been very good for a very long time. I think everybody knows what he does."
Whenever the Bulls trapped Durant, he'd just move the ball to the open teammate. Devin Booker finished with 35 points. Josh Okogie added 25, including five 3-pointers.
"We just felt like trying to put some size on him with Patrick and send help when we needed to and have Alex (Caruso) come in and play Booker because Booker is a guy who predominately plays the entire first and third quarters," Donovan said. "With as much screening actions as Booker is coming off of, Alex is probably a better matchup."
2. The 3-point discrepancy that has plagued the Bulls all season played out again.
At one point, the Suns had as many makes with 17 as the Bulls had attempts. Overall, the Bulls finished minus-39 from beyond the arc. The Suns more than doubled the Bulls' attempts, finishing 20-for-47, while the Bulls went 7-for-23. Durant had six 3-pointers himself.
"I think we need to take more 3s. We have to change our shot profile when you're going against an elite offensive team," Donovan said. "I think getting downhill and spraying it out when we can is important."
The Bulls are the NBA's 30th-ranked team in both 3-point attempts at 28.6 and makes at 10.3.
"The only way you're going to overcome that is either by getting an enormous amount of offensive rebounds or getting to the free-throw line," Donovan said. "We did OK getting to the free-throw line. But we haven't been an elite offensive rebounding team."
3. Speaking of offensive rebounds, the Bulls' rise in defensive rating has been fueled in part by their elite defensive rebounding and limiting opponents' second-chance damage. Not so against the Suns, the second time since the All-Star break this issue has occurred.
Phoenix grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and scored 20 points off them. Jock Landale was most active with four offensive boards, at one point frustrating Nikola Vucevic. Donovan pointed to the Bulls' need to send traps at Durant and Booker as one culprit.
"Chris (Paul), Booker and Kevin are all willing passers and try to play the right way. So when they are doubled, they don't try to shoot out of double teams. They throw it out. So now what happens is you're rotating," Donovan said. "And a lot of times on the backside, we had our center, whether it was Andre (Drummond) or Vooch, having to make the next rotation to the corner. And a lot of times in that opposite corner was a good shooter. So you can't just dare him to shoot. So now you got Landale or (DeAndre) Ayton coming down on top of the basket to offensive rebound against some of our guards. But we had to do it instead of letting Kevin and Booker play in space one-on-one."
4. The Bulls actually played a competitive game. They didn't turn the ball over, with just nine miscues. They shot 25 free throws. They assisted on 24 of 39 field goals, shooting 47 percent. Other than the 3-point discrepancy and the offensive rebounds allowed, no stat line jumped out.
That's just how good Phoenix might be.
"They're only going to get better in my opinion. That's only the second game they've played with each other," Donovan said. "I think they're top-10 right now offensively. And I think adding Kevin, that number is only going to go up. They've got the talent and ability to be as good as any offensive team in this league. Chris doesn't take a lot of shots. But he's an elite 3-point shooter. He picks his spots. But (Damion) Lee shoots it. Cameron Payne shoots it. They all shoot a good percentage. They have shooting around those guys, so when you send two there, it makes it tough."
5. The Bulls now sit a full two games behind the play-in picture with just 18 games to play. They also only lead the 12th-place Indiana Pacers, who visit the United Center on Sunday, by one game.
Coming out of the All-Star break, DeMar DeRozan said the Bulls have to treat every game like it's a Game 7. The Bulls, other than a fourth-quarter collapse against the Detroit Pistons in which they still eked out a victory, have done better in terms of playing with force and aggressiveness.
But the finish to this one, albeit against a potentially elite team, can stick with a team. DeRozan said avoiding that will be his message until the Sunday matinee.
"We gotta catch a rhythm here, but we can't look at the whole spectrum of it," DeRozan said. "We gotta take care of Sunday now. We need it. After we take care of that, we need to figure out what's next. Obviously, this is discouraging losing. But I have a hope and faith that we have a fire under us, understanding what's ahead of us."