Despite the fact that Derrick Rose missed his second consecutive game because of a sore left big toe, the Chicago Bulls smashed the Phoenix Suns 118-97 on Tuesday night at the United Center. The 118 points were a season-high for the Bulls, who improved to an Eastern Conference-best 13-3.
The Bulls had six players in double figures, including all five starters. Carlos Boozer had his best performance of the season, dropping a season-high 31 points, six rebounds and two steals in 31 minutes of action. C.J. Watson clearly looked to be over his left elbow injury, starting in Rose's absence and pouring in 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3-of-3 from three-point range, in 33 minutes. Team ironman Luol Deng posted 15 points and six rebounds, and he notched under 30 minutes (27, to be exact) in a contest for the first time this season -- a welcome sight for Bulls fans. The Bulls' starting lineup combined for 93 points.
Although the Suns led 11-10 just under four minutes into the game, the Bulls were focused and brought the type of energy that they were missing in Monday afternoon's 102-86 drubbing at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies. Joakim Noah and Rip Hamilton finished with 13 and 11 points, respectively, but both played major roles as the Bulls were able to regain and build on the lead. Noah added 12 rebounds (six offensive), while Hamilton had five of his six assists in the first quarter. Coach Tom Thibodeau certainly won't be content with the Suns' offensive output, shooting 51.4 percent from the field. But the Bulls showed that they can play -- and succeed in -- the Suns' style of play.
The Bulls were on top 39-31 through one quarter and had extended their lead to 67-47 by halftime. Boozer had 26 of his aforementioned 31 in the first half, perhaps his best in Chicago, helping the Bulls break the game open. On Monday, the Bulls allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 70 percent throughout the first half. Thibodeau's bunch flipped the script against the Suns and hit 69.2 percent from the field. They had 31 assists, only six turnovers and forced 19 miscues.
The Suns had no answer for the Bulls' big men -- Boozer, in particular. Noah outworked and outhustled the Suns' front line, even knocking down a couple of mid-range jumpers in the first quarter. Phoenix point guard Steve Nash had 25 points and nine assists and appeared to be the only Sun able to compete with the Bulls each time down the court.
The bottom line for the Bulls is that they were able to win this game without the reigning NBA MVP, receiving crucial outings from multiple sources. The question now is: Will the Bulls sit Rose for the rest of the week? What's more, will Rose actually be OK with sitting out more games? Watson and John Lucas III have shown time and time again that they can produce at a high level when needed. It makes plenty of sense for the Bulls to keep Rose out until he's 100 percent healthy -- but he, of course, is itching to get back on the court and typically has the backing of his coach.
For one night, however, the Bulls were able to grant Thibodeau his (birthday) wish -- a victory. The reigning Coach of the Year celebrated his 54th birthday on Tuesday, a grand day as far as birthday's are concerned. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade turned 74 and 30 years old, respectively.
Next up, the Bulls have a much-needed two days off before taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena. A Rose-Kyrie Irving matchup would be plenty of fun for NBA fans, but it will be interesting to see whether or not the former will play.