Caruso's defensive heroics fall short as Bulls lose to Suns in OT

After rolling past Utah on Monday, an optimistic Bulls fan might have thought, "Maybe the worst is over after that 2-5 start."

Well, it doesn't get much worse than the Bulls' opening six minutes on Wednesday at the United Center, when they lost track of all defensive concepts and fell behind the Phoenix Suns 22-4.

To the Bulls' credit, they turned the early disaster into genuine competition before finally losing in overtime 116-115. And they stayed close even on a night when Bulls enemy Grayson Allen hit eight 3-pointers and scored 26 points.

"The intention to do what we're doing is really good, like getting downhill and trying to move the ball," coach Billy Donovan said. "We got into the teeth of their defense, we got to the rim. We had so many balls we lost or fumbled or missed a layup or had really good ball movement and missed the 3. We needed to make some of those."

Maybe the main question after this contest is whether the Bulls' supporting cast is good enough to save the season.

The second-stringers helped reel in the Suns and Coby White continues to grow, but Alex Caruso was just about a one-man victory cigar. Caruso scored 19 points, his second-highest scoring game in a Bulls uniform, and stayed absolutely glued to Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The Bulls limited Phoenix to 4 points during a six-minute stretch spanning the end of the fourth quarter and start of overtime, but they missed too many chances to put the game away.

"They were really trying to screen him to get him off Durant," Donovan said. "I give Alex a tremendous amount of credit, refusing to get the matchup changed.

"I think (Caruso) probably deserves a lot of credit in this early part of the season. Not only has he been great defensively and his plus-minus is off the charts, but he's giving us a really good boost making some 3s when he's got them."

The Bulls led by 4 with 2:27 left in overtime when Caruso banked in a 3-pointer. The lead was 115-111 after a DeMar DeRozan foul-line jumper with 1:18 left. But a corner 3-pointer by Keita Bates-Diop on the next possession gave the Suns some life.

With two chances at a clinching basket, White missed a 3-pointer, then Nikola Vucevic had the ball poked away in the post for a turnover. Phoenix hustled down the floor and with the Bulls scrambling on defense, center Jusuf Nurkic hit the game-winning lay-in off a pass from Durant with 7.1 seconds left.

DeRozan missed an off-balance 17-footer on the final possession, and the Bulls dropped to 3-6 on the season.

Vucevic led the Bulls with 26 points, while DeRozan and Zach LaVine scored 22 each. Allen led Phoenix with 26 points, and Durant finished with 25.

LaVine made a nice play driving to the hoop and dishing to Vucevic for an easy lay-in and foul with 2:15 left. Vucevic missed the free throw, but the basket brought the Bulls within 2 points. They failed on three chances to tie the score before DeRozan finally finished a driving bank shot with 15.7 seconds left to tie the score. Durant missed an 18-foot fadeaway over Caruso at the end of regulation.

Late in the second quarter, White showed a higher level of confidence by carrying the Bulls through a three-minute stretch. While the Bulls outscored Phoenix 11-7, White scored 9 points and assisted on the other basket, a short hook by Vucevic.

Caruso almost single-handedly got the Bulls back in the game after the slow start. He not only picked up the defensive effort, but also hit his first 3 shots from 3-point range and finished the first half with a plus-16.

For the Suns, Devin Booker did not play due to a right calf strain, while former Washington guard Bradley Beal made his Suns debut after missing the first seven games of the season with back spasms and scored 13 points.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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