Allow me to state up front that I fully expected the Bulls to lose in Phoenix last night. In fact, I was so certain of the outcome that I wrote my lead-in for this post while on my way to T.G.I. Fridays to watch the game. Here, I’ll share it with you: “On Thursday night, the Suns lost a hotly contested game to their arch-nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs. They were bound to be angry. So, against that backdrop, the beating they administered to the Bulls really wasn’t that surprising. I mean, let me put it this way: If you were the Riddler, would you want to face Batman right after he got his butt kicked by the Joker? No, I didn’t think so.”
Good call, huh? I’m suddenly glad I didn’t place any bets on the Super Bowl. So what in the name of Lincoln’s wart happened? I suppose it’s possible I cast a wholly unintentional (though ultimately rewarding) stat curse on the Suns. But still, a 122-111 Bulls win was way outside the realm of my wildest imagination. Seriously, I would have been less surprised if Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster had gotten married by the Phoenix Gorilla during an elaborate but tasteful halftime ceremony.
Here’s the story: The Bulls scored a season-high in points while shooting 50 percent from the field, 47 percent from three-point range, and 90 percent from the line. They won the rebounding battle 42-35 (including 12 offensive boards, which led to a 14-2 advantage in second-chance points in the first half alone). They also forced 14 turnovers, which resulted in 19 extra points. Meanwhile, they committed only 9 turnovers (for 7 points) themselves. So, basically, they did everything a team needs to do to win on the road. Or at home. Or on the moon. Hustle. Execution. Success. In short, everything we’ve come to NOT expect from the 2008-09 Chicago Bulls. Go figure.
Vinny Del Negro, who just two days ago was getting zero love from team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, said: “Whenever you can win, it builds confidence.” So not only did he coach his team to a big win and thus buy himself a little more time as the Bulls’ headmaster, he also rated a solid eight on the Dull-Negrometer. You go, Vinny!
Just like in their game against the Kings, several Bulls got a chance to pad their stats. Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose both scored 26 points. Luol Deng had a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds). The Chicago reserves put up 39 points, led by Kirk Hinrich (15), Thabo Sefolosha (11) and Andres Nocioni (11). And Araron Gray added his obligatory 2 points and 4 fouls. So good times all around.
Rose, though, was semi-phenomenal…running, dunking, and hitting little floaters over The Big All-Star that Mke McGraw has dubbed the “Shaq in the box.” Sure, Rose hurt his foot and sat out the final 6:41, but his play impressed. And regarding his running one-handers over Shaq, Rose said: “I used to do that in Memphis. Shaq is a big person to shoot over, then there’s Amare (Stoudemire). I’m good with floaters, so that’s why I shot it. Last year, watching (college teammates) Chris Douglas-Roberts do it, I just got used to it.” Hey, whatever works, Derrick. And everything was working for the Bulls last night.
Make no mistake: This win was an historic event. For starters, it marked the first time that the Bulls have won three in a row since April 6, 2007. It was also the first time since 1996-97 that Chicago has swept the season series from Phoenix. After losing their season-high fifth straight game at Minnesota, the Bulls have won three straight games by more than 17 points per contest…all on the road. I know. It makes no sense. Speaking of which: The Bulls have won nine of their last 10 games against teams that are above .500. That’s quite an accomplishment for a group that’s only 21-27 this season.
Meanwhile, the Suns are on the bad side of history. They’ve lost two straight and seven of their last 10 games. They’ve dropped three in a row at home for the first time this season. Worse yet, the loss gave them their first losing month since April 2004. And it’s sort of a mystery as to what happened to them. I mean, Phoenix shot 52 percent as a team. Leandro Barbosa scored a season-high 32 points. Steve Nash had 15 points and 10 assists. Shaq contributed 18 and 8 before fouling out. Grant Hill chipped in with 19 points, 5 boards and 5 assists.
But in the end, the Suns simply got out-worked by a Bulls team that wanted it more than they did. And Phoenix coach Terry Porter was left to ponder his team’s low-energy output: “We talked about coming out and having energy and setting a tone, but we just didn’t do it. At times, we just allowed those guys to keep building confidence, confidence and confidence. It was a disappointing loss for us.”
One team’s disappointment is another team’s success. Regardless of what happens in the next three games of this seven-game road trip, the Bulls just might have the chance to turn a season dubbed a “disaster” and “embarrassing” into something special.