The Suns coach and front office promised more minutes for the young players and Watson delivered.
Alex Len joined the starting lineup, while Tyler Ulis, Alan Williams and Derrick Jones Jr. joined the second unit while Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight took the night off.
And what do you know - the Suns looked like a read NBA team (thanks Bulls!) and the kids all looked like real positive contributors.
The starters - Alex Len, Marquese Chriss, Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and T.J. Warren - gave up the lead in the final minute, allowing the Bulls a 15-4 run to erase a 102-91 lead to tie the game 106-106 with 48.2 seconds to go on a Jimmy Butler three.
After another Bledsoe turnover, Jimmy Butler made another shot to put the Bulls up 108-106 with 9 seconds to go.
And that was that, until it WASN’T.
Booker was fouled on a three with 1.5 seconds to go and made the first two free throws but MISSED the third and time ran out.
There the Bulls flexed their muscles on their home floor, especially Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler. Butler missed 11 of his first 15 shots in the game, but finished with 22 points, 9 assists, 4 steals and 3 rebounds. Wade had 23/3/3/2.
Nikola Mirotic played like he was SUPPOSED to play for the Bulls, making 4 of 7 threes (after shooting 30% on the year) for 20 points, while Denzel Valentine made 5 of 8 (after shooting 30% himself) for 15 of his own.
Bulls win 128-121 in overtime.
This is the way its supposed to go, right?
FUN GAME! Loved watching the kids play all night long, and making the Bulls’ best players beat them.
Devin Booker had 25 points, 4 assists. Bledsoe had 17/9/6. Chriss had 17/7/1/2/2. Warren 15/7. Sauce 16/3.
The Suns opened the game with Alex Len starting ahead of Tyson Chandler (healthy), fitting with what Ryan McDonough said on the radio since the deadline that the Suns would get better looks at their youngest players the rest of the way. Len joins the 23-and-under crowd of Marquese Chriss, Devin Booker, Len and T.J. Warren. First off the bench were Tyler Ulis and Alan Williams, ahead of Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler.
The Bulls started second year PF Bobby Portis (21), taking over for traded Taj Gibson and benched Nikola Mirotic. Among the first wave of bench players, rookie Denzel Valentine showed he’s now been promoted to the second unit.
Chriss had a great transition block on Portis, but the ensuing scuffle cost him his 9th tech on the season (a double tech with Portis, and tying him for the team lead with Booker).
The Suns got out to a 19-10 start before the Bulls second unit helped them go on a 9-0 run to tie the game.
The Suns led 25-24 after one quarter, with Booker and Robin Lopez (yes, THAT RoLo) leading all scorers with 8 points.
AIRPLANE MODE Derrick Jones Jr. started the second quarter (along with Ulis and Williams) and after getting run into his own Big Sauce to allow a dunk, he grabbed a good rebound in transition then nearly stuffed down a dunk that Dwyane Wade completely denied with a clothesline (Jones made both free throws).
A unit with Airplane Mode, Big Sauce, Ulis (what’s his nickname anyway? We need one!), Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa made my heart warm up a bit as they kept the lead into the second quarter.
Let’s be honest, folks, before you say this should have been the case all year: all the pressure is off. And it’s a small sample size. But it’s fun!!
And then there’s THIS
My goodness, @TheRea1DJones!#WeArePHX pic.twitter.com/XrOHg2x8zD— NBA.com (@NBAcom) February 25, 2017
The Suns biggest problem in the first half is committing copious turnovers, a real symptom of playing a rotation of mostly 23-and-unders.
Without all the turnovers, the Suns would have a big lead because the Bulls just don’t have any real shooters on their team. They can make shots, but not consistently (while the Suns can’t either).
Another big problem for the Suns, besides turnovers, is not taking enough threes (just 3-10 in the first half). They really don’t hunt those threes, likely because they don’t have enough of their own three-point shooters who are consistent enough to spread the floor. Just having Booker isn’t enough.
At halftime, the Suns are only up 54-52 despite outshooting (56% to 44%) and out rebounding (26-18) the Bulls because of those turnovers.
Eric Bledsoe is quietly on pace for a triple double: 7 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
The third quarter was defined by a pair of runs, with the Suns surging up 76-63 then the Bulls going on a 16-2 run to take the lead on their home floor.
Denzel Valentine, a 30% three point shooter for his rookie season, began 5-5 on threes to help the Bulls come back from the dead they played like in the first half.
The teams went back and forth from there on.
That dish... that flush... #WeArePHX pic.twitter.com/dF384WrBPE— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 25, 2017
Watson once again trusted Tyler Ulis and Alan Williams over Knight and Chandler in the second half, plus Airplane Mode along with Dudley and Barbosa, and they kept the slim lead for the Suns before starters came back in.
The Suns pulled ahead by five on an LB leaner after Bledsoe and Booker back in with veterans Dudley and Barbosa, plus Alan Williams, with 6:22 minutes left.
Then LB hit a three to give the Suns a 97-89 lead that soon became a 102-91 lead on a Booker three off some really nice passing to get him an open shot.
But the Bulls went on another run and pulled back within 104-103 on a couple of Suns turnovers before Bledsoe drove and dished to Marquese Chriss on the roll to the rim for a finish (missed the and-one).
The Bulls eventually won in overtime (see above).