After taking a lead mid-fourth quarter, the Suns could not hold off the Bulls - and Butler's - final push.
"They're a team that can make shots and go on runs," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "In the stretch we had to make them miss, then go down there and get a good shot. We did that and won the game."
Backups Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich, shooting a combined 42% on the season, made 11 of 14 shots between them, including all four three-point attempts. That's 26 points, along with 11 assists in a combined 44 combined minutes. Thanks to their play, they didn't miss Derrick Rose at all.
But Jimmy Butler was the difference for the Bulls. He started hot and finished hot, playing 43 minutes overall and scoring 32 points of big shot after big shot.
The Suns were playing uphill all night long, after allowing the Bulls to shoot 72% to their own 36% in the first quarter for a 31-18 Bulls lead.
"They are a good team, they don't need any extra confidence," Hornacek said. "But when they come in and make the first 11-of-13 baskets that they take, now you're uphill. We were battling all night to get back and finally get the lead and then they made shots."
The Suns did battle back, but could not get over the hump despite pulling within 4 late in the second quarter and taking a momentary fourth quarter lead.
The Suns got major contributions again from Fire and Ice, with Eric Bledsoe pouring in a ho-hum 21 points with 7 assists against only 2 turnovers and Brandon Knight getting 23 points with 4 assists (against 5 turnovers). But without T.J. Warren (sick) and a tentative Markieff Morris, there wasn't a consistent third scoring threat on the floor. P.J. Tucker's 20 points helped fill in for Warren a bit, but it wasn't enough.
Bulls fans loud
"I told the guys that just got here that it's gonna be like that," forward P.J. Tucker said. "When you get the Lakers, Chicago, Boston, you know it's gonna be loud. It's how it is, welcome to Phoenix."
While last year this message was shared in a "woe is me" kind of way, Tucker's comments were more matter of fact. Phoenix IS a transient city. And Chicago fans, in particular, are abundant in the valley especially during the winter months. I mean, nobody wants to be in Chicago most of the year, especially the winter. While it's frustrating to be a Suns fans among all those Bulls crazies, we just need to accept that they travel well.
Here's a Clips fan - and friend of the BSotS family, some might say a closet Suns fan - sharing it's not just Phoenix that deals with Chicago noise.
@DaveKingNBA There was a study done that revealed that the Bulls had like the second largest fanbase in the Southwest.
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) November 19, 2015
The Diamondbacks and Cardinals have dealt with traveling Chicago fans as well. I'm sure the Coyotes have the same issues.
So while it's frustrating, it's not the end of the world. The guys just need to accept and play through it. What else can the players do?
Big stage for Booker
19-year old Devin Booker had sage advice about the fans and big moments.
"It feels really good having your fans behind you," Booker said of loud cheers on his own threes. "Today, there were a lot of Bulls fans in there too so it looked like 50-50, but overall this is what we live for. Games like this, you grow up watching on TV. It was a playoff-type atmosphere in there today and it's just what you want to play in."
Booker doesn't let the big moments consume him. He made a three pointer seconds after entering the game that the Suns needed badly. He made both of his threes and had two blocks on defense, but was also abused in the post by Jimmy Butler on consecutive possessions when the game was in the balance. Booker's highs and lows were typical of any player, let alone a teenager.
"Just control the ‘controllables'," he said of those moments. "When you get out there, just take advantage of your opportunity. You can't control everything but I'm young, I'm a rookie. I know a lot of people have been through it, so just keep working, keep grinding every day."
Mirza looks to be getting more comfortable in the lineup and made two of five three-pointers. He said the Suns ball movement was lacking compared to other games.
He also said he didn't hear the Bulls fans at all, which is understandable given he's had a long career overseas and over there fans are absolutely nuts in the noise department. If I don't hear another vuvuzela in my life, I'll live a little longer.
Here's some more real talk from P.J. Tucker.
And some from the ever-eloquent Bledsoe. He gave props to the Bulls, and then talked about the next game rather than dwell on the current one.
"We definitely have to move on to the next game," Bledsoe said. "We have the Pelicans next if I'm not mistaken. You just got to move on to the next game. There's nothing we can do about this game right here."
And finally some from Markieff Morris, whose recent knee injury was the very first of his entire basketball playing career. He says he'd never missed a game due to injury in his entire life until now, and while he seemed confident that he wasn't tentative at all he did admit that the doctors made the call and it's all about the pain you can endure, meaning he's still a bit stiff. That might explain his 3/4 speed play. I give you these crib notes because it's quite possible you won't be able to hear him well in the video. Because Keef.
Don't get too worried about it, but Brandon Knight appeared to roll his ankle again in a scrum for the ball in the third quarter. He came up limping and played through it, then didn't bother mentioning it to the coach or trainers afterward, so he might be just fine.
But he looked a bit stiffer in the fourth quarter than earlier, and was clearly walking gingerly to the showers after the game. Again, though, he had no wrap on the ankle and no training staff attention at all. So it's likely nothing to worry about. I just thought I'd mention it though.