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Suns Strokes: Bulls guard Jimmy Butler burns Phoenix

Even without Derrick Rose the Chicago Bulls are a pretty formidable opponent.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns, who saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped with a 103-97 loss to a Bulls team that elected to keep their all-star guard on the bench due to a sprained left ankle.

Chicago (8-3) won its fourth straight behind Jimmy Butler’s game-best and season-best 32 points. He scored 14 in the fourth quarter with nine coming in a 16-9 close after the Suns took an 88-87 lead with 4:47 to play.

Butler shot 5-of-10 in the quarter and finished 11-of-23, delighting many of the 17,377 in attendance at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday.

A “Let’s Go Bulls!” chant broke out in the fourth quarter.

The Suns were led by a trio 20-point scorers in Brandon Knight (23), Eric Bledsoe (21) and P.J. Tucker (20); the latter established a new season-high and was two points off of Tucker’s career-high.

The Bulls outscored the Suns 31-18 in the first quarter and led by as many as 17 points in the first half.

Aside from Butler, four other Bulls players hit double figures in scoring, including Pau Gasol (17), Kirk Hinrich (14), Aaron Brooks (12) and Nikola Mirotic (10).

The Bulls shot 49.4 percent, while limiting the Suns — whose largest lead was one point on three different occasions — to 40.7 percent, right in line with their opponent season average of 40.8, the second-best mark in the NBA.

The Suns (6-5) went 3-1 on their four-game homestand.

THE GOOD

– Aggressive early, Tucker scored the Suns’ first five points of the game with a fastbreak lay-up and 23-foot 3-pointer, the latter of which gave his team a 5-4 lead at 10:20, their one and only advantage of the first quarter. It lasted all of 16 seconds. Tucker added six points in the third quarter to put him in double figures in back-to-back games.

– Staring at a 17-point deficit at 6:59 of the second quarter, the Suns responded with a 19-6 run over the next five minutes to pull to within four, 48-44. Knight accounted for eight points with a fastbreak lay-up, two free throws and an assist—feeding Tyson Chandler for an alley-oop dunk. Knight scored 10 of his 15 first-half points in the quarter.

– Scoring eight points in 38 seconds near the end of the third quarter, the Suns erased all of their 17-point first-half deficit. Devin Booker and Mirza Teletovic each hit 3s, and then Ronnie Price stole the inbounds pass and made a lay-up to tie the game at 70 with 51.7 seconds remaining. Bledsoe blocked a shot during that run as well.

– With 11 fourth-quarter points, Bledsoe extended his career-long streak of scoring 20 or more points to six straight games, during which time he is averaging 24.5 points while shooting 50 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from three and 81.1 percent from the foul line. He’s also averaging 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds in that stretch.

THE BAD

– In his first nine minutes of court time after missing two straight games with a left knee sprain, Markieff Morris was 0-of-2 shooting from the field with one rebound, one steal, one turnover and two fouls; plus he gave up eight points, six to Mirotic on a pair of 3-pointers and two to Hinrich by goaltending Hinrich’s two-foot lay-up.

– Arguably, the Suns played their worst first quarter of the season. They recorded their second-worst scoring output (18) and highest point total allowed (31; 13-of-18 FG, 72.2 percent). The Suns surrendered runs of 8-2 and 8-0 while missing 14 of their 22 attempts, including 7-of-9 from 3, for a 36.4 shooting percentage after 12 minutes.

– After the Suns closed to within one, 58-57 thanks to a Gasol tip-in to the home team’s basket at 7:54 of the third quarter, the Bulls answered with a 12-5 run. Hinrich and Butler each scored four points, the latter making a 3-pointer, while E’Twaun Moore hit a 12-foot floater to cap the scoring stretch and give Chicago a 70-62 lead at 1:54.

– After the Suns took a 73-72 lead on a Booker 3-pointer 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Bulls responded with seven unanswered points. Doug McDermott nailed a 3 followed by a pair of free throws, 17-foot step back jump shot and one more foul shot by Butler to make it 79-73 Chicago with 8:57 to play.

STAT OF THE GAME

72.2: The Bulls’ first-quarter shooting percentage as they made 13-of-18 field goals, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc

HE SAID IT

“We tell our guys that a lot of times games, not that they are actually won or lost at the beginning of the game, but when you give a team confidence … They are a good team, they don’t need any extra confidence, 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.” — Suns coach Jeff Hornacek

NOTED

– Tucker’s third-quarter lay-up capped a seven-shot attempt possession that lasted 20 seconds.

– Hornacek received his first technical foul of the season, arguing a non-foul call in the third quarter.

– Morris reached the 8,000th-minute milestone for his career, the 34th player in franchise history to hit the mark.

– For the second straight game and third time in five games Sonny Weems was a DNP-Coach’s Decision.

– While Morris and Price returned to the lineup, T.J. Warren missed the game due to flu-like symptoms.

– Third generation IndyCar driver Marco Andretti was among those in attendance.

UP NEXT

Three games in four days, all on the road, is what’s ahead for the Suns, who are 1-2 away from Phoenix.

The trip begins in Denver with a game against Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried of the Nuggets on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Suns have won two straight and seven of eight against the Nuggets, including once already this season at home, 105-81, on Nov. 14.

In that meeting, the Suns went on two plus-17 runs in the first half to open up a 60-28 halftime lead. The 32-point advantage tied for the fourth-largest in franchise history and the 28 points allowed tied for the third-fewest for a first half. The Suns would lead by as many as 37 in the fourth quarter, their biggest lead since March 26, 2010.

Bledsoe finished with a game-high 30 points, his career-long-tying fourth straight game with 20-plus points and his second game of 30-plus of the season. His point total matched the Nugggets’ starting five which combined for 30 points in the game.

From Denver, the Suns will visit New Orleans and San Antonio on a back-to-back on Nov. 22-23.

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