Stung by the Luol Deng trade, the Chicago Bulls found a way to ease their pain.
Taj Gibson had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Chicago beat the Phoenix Suns 92-87 on Tuesday night in its first game after parting with Deng.
Joakim Noah added 14 points and 16 rebounds, helping the Bulls to their sixth win in eight games. D.J. Augustin and Jimmy Butler each scored 13. Tony Snell added 12 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers during an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter that extended the lead to 13.
Chicago sent Deng to Cleveland in a deal that was announced early Tuesday morning after the two-time All-Star recently turned down a proposed contract extension, a move that hurts in the short term but gives the Bulls flexibility to add to their roster down the road. It also could also help knock them into the lottery, although that’s far from a sure thing given the weak state of the Eastern Conference.
Either way, they weren’t conceding anything on Tuesday.
“We lost a really great teammate, a really great player last night/this morning,” Butler said. “I’m glad we got the win.”
Goran Dragic scored 21 for Phoenix, but the Suns simply couldn’t get into gear after winning 11 of their previous 14. Their 87 points were one off their season low, and they matched one with 12 assists.
Tops in the NBA in fast-break points, Phoenix managed just 10 against defensive-minded Chicago. The Suns played without guard Eric Bledsoe, who missed his third consecutive game with a sprained right knee, but the Bulls were hardly operating at full strength.
Besides dealing Deng, they were without Carlos Boozer. He missed his second straight game because of a sore right knee, leaving Chicago with just nine players available.
The Bulls were leading by five early in the fourth when Snell hit back-to-back 3s. Noah then scored on a layup to make it 78-65, and Chicago hung on after it got tight again late in the game.
Phoenix’s Miles Plumlee hit a free throw to make it 85-81. But Kirk Hinrich answered with a 3 to bump the lead to seven with two minutes remaining.
“It doesn’t matter if they have five people or 12 people,” the Suns’ Channing Frye said. “They’re going to come out here and play as hard as they can. They have really good players. Guys that want to prove themselves.”
It was a difficult day for both teams, with the Suns’ departure from Phoenix delayed to Tuesday because of the subzero temperatures in Chicago and the Bulls trading away one of their best players.
Chicago acquired three draft picks from Cleveland along with Andrew Bynum, who was promptly waived in a move that took Chicago off the hook for the remaining $6 million on his two-year, $24 million deal.
But trading Deng was yet another big blow for a team that expected to challenge the Miami Heat for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury in November dashed those hopes, and Deng is gone now, too.
“We can accept our circumstances as they are, or we can do all we can to change them and turn them into something positive,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s one of the things I’ve admired about our team — they’ve accepted every challenge.”
They’re facing another one after trading Deng. Snell referred to him as a “big brother,” and Butler has repeatedly mentioned how much he learned from him.
“He told me he’s going to miss me, and Lu’s never told me anything nice since I’ve been here,” Butler said, grinning.
NOTES: Along with Bynum, Cleveland also sent the Bulls a first-round pick, two second-rounders, and gave Chicago the right to swap first-round choices in 2015 if the Cavs are not in the lottery. … Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson apologized to Deng for the way the organization publicly handled his illness during last year’s playoffs. The Bulls said at the time he was out with flu-like symptoms. An angry Deng posted on Twitter from a hospital that he had a more serious condition that required a spinal tap to rule out meningitis. “We did not handle that as well as we could have and should have,” Paxson said. “We spoke to Lu. I guess we didn’t understand the gravity in that moment, and that’s on us. Over the summer we talked to both Lu and Herb (Rudoy, his agent). We apologized. That’s something that we dropped the ball on.” … Leandro Barbosa arrived in Chicago and was expected to sign a 10-day contract with the Suns. Barbosa spent his first seven years with Phoenix but has not played in the NBA since he suffered a season-ending knee injury playing for Boston on Feb. 11, 2013.