Bulls comeback falls short against Suns

The Bulls fall 104-99 despite a combined 49 points and 10 threes from backcourt of Holiday and Dunn

Move over Curry and Thompson, Wall and Beal, Harden and Paul, Lillard and McCollum and Lowry and DeRozan? Here comes Dunn and Holiday? Backcourt beauties?

The Bulls backcourt pair of Justin Holiday and Kris Dunn Tuesday combined for 49 points on 19 of 31 shooting with 10 of 14 threes. They had 13 assists and six steals and Holiday’s three blocks. And it wasn’t quite enough as the Bulls lost 104-99 to the Phoenix Suns.

The Bulls with their sixth consecutive loss and 11th in the last 12 fell to 3-16. The Suns are 8-14 with their second win over the Bulls this month. The Bulls play in Denver Thursday.

“Kris’s mentality out of the gate was as good as it’s been,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “I thought he came out very aggressive. He was looking for his shot, he was really attacking. I thought Kris was terrific tonight.”

It was something. But there just are too many buts this season as Lauri Markkanen continued his shooting slump, 17 for 67 the last five games, with 12 points on the night. The Bulls had 27 assists and an impressive 18-6 edge in fast break points against the high scoring Suns. But the Bulls were dominated on the boards 57-41, with Alex Len getting 18 rebounds off the bench to support Devin Booker’s 33 points.

And in more buts that kept the Bulls from grabbing the win, the Bulls sought out 40 three pointers while getting to the free throw line just 10 times, making nine.

“It would be good to get some lay ups going down when we have numbers (on fast breaks),” agreed Hoiberg. “You have to find a way to get easy baskets, especially when you’re missing shots.”

And once again it was those droughts of missed shots, quick threes, long threes with the occasional turnover sprinkled in that doomed the Bulls with crucial second half sequences that enabled the Suns to hold on despite the Bulls closing within a basket in the last seconds.

The Suns opened the third quarter with a 17-6 run and the fourth quarter with a 7-0 and 14-2 run. They held the Bulls to four points the first six minutes of the second quarter.

“I’m sick and tired of calling the first timeout in quarters,” moaned Hoiberg. “We talked about making them call the first timeout. And they came out with a 7-0 run to take control, to put it up to a double digit game (to open the fourth). It’s so hard to continue to climb uphill, especially late in the game like that. Give our guys credit; they picked it up. Had an opportunity on a layup to cut it to a one possession game down the stretch.”

Right, that layup.

It perhaps defined this learning experience season for the Bulls as the lessons continue to come quickly and painfully.

The Bulls, after trailing 94-77 with 6:02 left in the game, came back behind Dunn and Holiday, Dunn with a pair of threes and Holiday with a driving score and step back three. Dunn’s 24 points were a career high. Holiday had a career best six threes and just four points from his career high.

“Coach called me out last game,” said Dunn, who shot two of 17 for eight points combined the previous two games. “When a coach calls you out, you have to go out there and play as hard as you can. I had to play aggressive on defense and offense, play downhill, get others involved as much as I can.”

It was 101-96 Suns with 36.3 seconds left after a Dunn fast break. Dunn rebounded a Booker miss and dribbled full court and over Marquese Chriss for a layup score. Booker then bounced a cross court pass to Tyler Ulis, the 5-10 guard from Chicago Heights. Dunn was a blur intercepting the ball like a free safety, which he once was, and driving apparently to get the Bulls within, as they like to say on TV, one possession.

Booker didn’t give up, however.

He came flashing back on an angle toward the streaking Dunn.

As Dunn got past Ulis, Dunn also saw Booker coming. Dunn tried to reach out his right arm away from Booker. But Booker had the angle and continued to make the great block.

“Never quit,” said Suns interim coach Jay Triano. “We’ve talked about game winning plays. He never gave up on it. He’s got a knack for being able to time those plays, and that was a heck of a play.”

The Bulls fouled Ulis, who made one of two free throws for a 102-96 Suns lead. The slumping Markkanen came out of the Bulls timeout with a three on an inbounds pass from Dunn to get the Bulls back within 102-99 with 22.5 seconds left. T.J. Warren with 25 points made two free throws. Markkanen then got a last shot attempt blocked and the Suns ran out the last few seconds.

“We’re competitors. You’re never going to be okay with (losing),” said Holiday. “It’s about fighting until the end. We’re not just happy to be out in the NBA. It’s a blessing, don’t get me wrong, but we play this game to try and win games. We’re going to keep competing. We’re all competitive, and I don’t think that’s a problem. I know we’re losing a lot, but we still want to win. It was good to see the fight, but we have to find a way to get to the next step and win.”

And so the Bulls also wait for reinforcements.

It may be soon as Nikola Mirotic, practicing with the team and even against Bobby Portis in practice Monday, sat with the team on the bench Tuesday for the first time this season. Mirotic, of course, suffered facial fractures from a Portis punch just before the season opener. He is scheduled to practice with the Windy City Bulls this week. So is Zach LaVine, who showed off windmill dunking in practice this week. He is expected to return to games sometime in December.

The Bulls are trying to have a team ready for them.

Dunn is a vital element since he could join with LaVine in a potentially dynamic backcourt.

Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen were the constituent pieces of the Jimmy Butler trade and the Bulls hope a core moving forward.

Markkanen impressed to start the season. But with summer play for his national team, he may be wearing out some lately. He’s still shooting a lot of threes, but having made so many early, teams are focusing on him. The closeouts are quicker and more aggressive and he appears often to be rushing shots. Even when he is open, apparently anticipating the defense. Almost 60 percent of the seven footer’s shots this season have been threes.

The Bulls this season too often have followed the NBA trend of long shots, at times when when they’ve had a fast break layup opportunity.

“Lauri had great looks tonight,” said the always supportive Hoiberg. “I thought he had high quality shots. Just didn’t go down for him; but they will. He’s too good a shooter to stay in a slump. If he’s got open shots, we expect him to take those.”

Perhaps not so much for Paul Zipser, whose name is becoming an aptronym. He was zip shooting once again, zero for five, his fourth game without making a shot this month. Zipser, like center Cristiano Felicio, seems to have done a bit of the Michael Jackson moonwalk this season. Zipser is shooting 25 percent in 11 games this month and 12 percent on threes. He’s just under 30 percent for the season. The Bulls generally don’t have enough offense to offset poor shooting from several players as Robin Lopez was an uncharacteristic four of 15 like Markkanen, though Lopez did rebound several of his misses.

It’s making it an easy time to become frustrated, but the Bulls appear back to competing to the end.

Booker said something interesting he’d heard from former Bull Tyson Chandler, who played in the ugly Bulls rebuilding of the Tim Floyd years.

“Tyson said this,” related Booker. “'Mostly when you go to a young team, their problem is the team doesn’t like each other; people are competing with each other or there’s egos.’ We don’t have that on this team. We all care about each other. We all want to see each other succeed. We’re just a young team that makes young mistakes. I’m happy with the bunch we have here. We have a lot of good guys.”

It sounds a bit like what the Bulls are building as well.

“He (Hoiberg) does a good job at staying positive,” said Holiday. “That’s the biggest thing, especially for a young team, to stay positive and continuing to do what we’re supposed to do to the best of our abilities and things will turn around at some point. It hasn’t happened yet, but he’s continued to preach on doing what we’re coached to do. We’re going to try to figure out a way, but he’s been very positive through it.”

And the Bulls even had one of those two-on-one fast breaks early when Denzel Valentine dropped the ball off behind to Holiday for a layup. They don’t kick out for the three every time. That was part of a late first quarter run that gave the Bulls a 29-28 lead after one quarter with Dunn taking on the game to start. The Bulls, inevitably, had one of those quarters—live by the jumper, die by the jumper—in the second with 14 points. But they controlled the Suns defensively and trailed just 46-43 at halftime. It was a staggering third quarter start for the Bulls with Lopez and Dunn turnovers as Dunn has not yet been able to beat that tendency. Dunn would also have a crucial late one trying to slip in a pass to a rolling Lopez with 1:20 left and the Bulls trailing by five. Dunn ended with five turnovers. No comparison, but Magic Johnson averaged four per game as a rookie.

“Whatever level, you can’t make those turnovers,” agreed Dunn. “I want to be a point guard in this league. I understand if I want to reach my goal, I have to get better each and every game. In practice, watching film, think a little smarter and understand the situations that are going on and not make those turnovers.”

The Suns led just 73-70 after three quarters as the Bulls closed the third on a 13-2 run. But then it was 14-2 Suns to start the fourth, and not quite enough as Holiday and Dunn shot seven for 10 and four of five on threes in the fourth quarter for 19 of the Bulls 29 points.

"Fred has done a good job, especially calling me out last game,” said Dunn. “When I play with aggression, play downhill, and get others involved, that’s how I get better and that’s how I can help the team. It’s (losing) tough on everybody, the coaching staff, the players; we all have a winning mentality. From college, high school, it’s definitely hard. This is the second time I’m going through it (also) last year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. We just have to understand as a group we are young and have to look at the future. There is going to be something good at the end.”

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