9 observations: Booker scores 51, Suns eviscerate Bulls


The Chicago Bulls were wholly dominated by the Suns in Phoenix on Wednesday by a score of 132-113.

The result dropped their record on the season to 9-12.

Here are nine observations:

1. Zach LaVine entered play on a six-game streak of shooting under 41 percent, a stretch in which he had gone 34.5 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from 3-point range. He snapped it in this game by shooting 7-for-15 en route to 21 points.

But those statistics were accrued in non-impactful fashion.

In the first half, after all, LaVine shot 1-for-6 from the field, getting to seven points only by going 5-for-6 from the free throw line. And he was on the floor with a reserve crew from the 3:08 mark of the first quarter until the 8:47 mark of the second, when the Suns stretched a 25-20 lead to 41-29.

Despite adding 14 points and making six of nine shots in the second half, LaVine still does not look his past self and is lacking in the shot selection department at important moments of games. He was a team-low -17 in this one.

2. There was a time in each of their careers when LaVine and Devin Booker were comparable players. No longer.

One would not need Wednesday night's game to draw that conclusion, but Booker drove the point home with a masterful performance nonetheless. His poise was notable in the midrange, where he shot 7-for-9 over the likes of Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams, and his patience was apparent as he set his teammates up for easy basket after easy basket.

The most demoralizing stretch came in the third quarter. Booker scored 10 points in the first 2:44 to stretch his 25-point halftime total to 35. And after a Bulls timeout Billy Donovan used to substitute in Derrick Jones Jr. — searching for a defensive answer — Booker splashed a fallaway jumper directly in his grill too. He finished the quarter with 26 points, eclipsing 50 with this steal and slam.

The Suns superstar finished with 51 points on 20-for-25 shooting (6-for-7 from 3-point range) in 31 minutes, adding six assists to boot. He was unconscious, and the Bulls, who oscillated through a number of defensive coverages but suffered breakdowns often, had nothing close to an answer for him.

3. Worse for the Bulls, Deandre Ayton proved a more than capable wingman for Booker with Chris Paul and Cam Johnson sidelined. He piled a 30-point, 16-rebound double-double while shooting 11-for-18 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free throw line. Nine of those buckets came in the paint, where his athleticism advantage over Nikola Vučević was apparent.

4. The Suns play a beautiful brand of basketball, predicated on ever-present ball and player movement and snappy decision-making. Although the Bulls' defense has performed above expectation so far this season — they entered play 10th in the league in defensive rating — that's a bad recipe considering their struggles containing dribble penetration and rotating out to 3-point shooters.

Phoenix, in this game, shot 52.1 percent and handed out 22 assists en route to a Bulls opponent season-high 132 points. It felt like just another night at the office.

5. The hosts also amassed a sizable advantage from beyond the 3-point arc. Their 15-for-33 (45.5 percent) mark from distance represented a 33-point difference from the Bulls shooting 4-for-25 (16 percent), which marked single-game season lows in 3-point makes and percentage.

This is a problem the Bulls, who rank 29th in the NBA in non-garbage time 3-point attempt rate, run into often, but on this night they were not able to compensate with free throws, paint touches or points off turnovers as they did in Monday's win at the Utah Jazz.

6. DeMar DeRozan was just about the only bright spot for the Bulls, scoring 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting and drawing eight free throw attempts. But the effort was not enough to get the Bulls closer than double digits from the second quarter on.

7. Another mildly positive nugget to chew on: After shooting 2-for-4 from 3-point range on Wednesday, Caruso is now 19-for-43 (44.2 percent) from deep since Oct. 24 after shooting 1-for-9 in the first three games of the season. At 38.5 percent for the season, he is well above his career mark of 36.6 percent

8. It did not mean much in the grand scope of the game, but Donovan used his coach's challenge in bizarre fashion. With 2:13 left in the third quarter, Caruso fouled Booker on a made 3-pointer — and on replay, it was evident he slapped the Suns star's wrist. But, with the only upside taking one free throw attempt off the board and wiping off Caruso's third foul late in the third of a 20-point game, Donovan used the challenge anyway. It was unsuccessful.

9. With wins over the Boston Celtics (twice), Milwaukee Bucks (on the road) and Miami Heat (who have struggled to start the season but remain reigning Eastern Conference finalists), the Bulls have displayed an ability to beat elite competition in a way they did not in 2021-22, when they went 2-21 against the top four teams in Eastern Conference.

This game cut hard against that trend.

After pulling ahead by double-digits in the second quarter, the Bulls were never able to get back within shouting distance. Even an 11-2 run midway through the third quarter only sliced a 23-point deficit to 14.

No, the Suns looked in a different stratosphere Wednesday, even down two starters. The good news for the Bulls is opportunities to bounce back await.

Next up: At the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Friday.

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