By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune reporter
1:31 AM EST, November 15, 2012
PHOENIX — A long, tough trip to vacate the United Center for the circus is as much a part of most Bulls' seasons as Benny the Bull and memories of MJ.
Not this year. The Bulls began a season-high-tying, five-game trip Wednesday night, but it's far more benign than recent vintages. Four games over eight days to begin, with two two-day breaks, followed by a trip home over Thanksgiving before a bus ride to Milwaukee. And only one of the five opponents made the playoffs last season.
Against that backdrop, and with Kirk Hinrich back from injury, the Bulls opened with a 112-106 overtime victory over the Suns at U.S. Airways Center behind Carlos Boozer's season-high 28 points and 14 rebounds, 21 points from Luol Deng and 21 points and 12 rebounds from Joakim Noah.
In other words, nothing will be easy for a team without Derrick Rose.
"We showed a lot of toughness," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "In the end, you have to find a way to win. And we did that."
Indeed, after blowing an 18-point, third-quarter lead and 14-point bulge to open the fourth, the Bulls started overtime with a 6-0 run. Luis Scola, who led the Suns with 24 points, fouled out 40 seconds into the extra session.
Deng struck first in overtime with a jumper. After Shannon Brown missed a layup, Boozer rebounded Richard Hamilton's miss and sank two free throws. Deng then drew an offensive foul on Michael Beasley and Hamilton buried a jumper.
After Beasley split two free throws, Boozer and Joakim Noah kept alive a possession that Hamilton ended with another buried jumper. He finished 15 points.
Noah's 20-foot jumper with 29.5 seconds left brought out Noah's guns-blazing celebration and ended the wild affair.
"We were able to settle it down," Hinrich said. "They had a bunch of guys in there playing hard, trying to junk the game up. We were able to get back to doing what we did before."
The Suns beat the Bulls at their own game in the fourth quarter, outrebounding them and getting to loose balls. Six of their 13 fourth-quarter rebounds were offensive, with P.J. Tucker finishing with seven offensive rebounds.
Brown and Sebastian Telfair combined for 19 of the Suns' 31 fourth-quarter points.
"We did a lot of good things to build the lead," Thibodeau said. "In the fourth quarter, the initial defense was good and then Tucker was crushing us with second shots. Not finishing our defense is what got us and then their ball pressure.
"Sometimes on the road, you're not going to get calls so you have to be strong. You have to go to your cutting game. Once we went to our cutting game, we started getting easy buckets and also got to the free throw line."
Brown's three-point play with a foul on Taj Gibson with 52.1 seconds left in regulation brought the Suns to within 99-98. After the teams traded misses, Hamilton only split two free throws with 17 seconds left.
That allowed Tucker to tie it up on a short layup off a feed from Sebastian Telfair with nine seconds left. After a timeout, Hamilton's baseline jumper wasn't close.
The Bulls' frustration showed with technical fouls on Hamilton, Nate Robinson and Hinrich, who drew his for arguing his fifth foul in the fourth but avoided fouling out. He finished with seven assists and five rebounds in 27 minutes.
"I felt good," Hinrich said of returning from injury. "It's probably not as good as I'd like it to be, but it was good enough to play. And now I have a couple of days to get it even better."
Hinrich returned after missing the last six quarters with a strain in his right hamstring and gluteus area but Goran Dragic victimized him early. Back at the scene of Rose's spectacular dunk over him in 2009, Dragic scored 10 quick points and sent Hinrich to the bench with two fouls. But he scored only two more points the rest of the night.
Boozer scored the Bulls' first eight points without missing and had 16 points by halftime in an aggressive effort.
"I thought Carlos was tremendous throughout," Thibodeau said.
After sitting for the first 18 minutes, 38 seconds, Jimmy Butler replaced Deng and energized a 13-0, second-quarter run. Butler provided two steals and six points in 92 seconds, stealing one inbounds pass to add a layup on top of Noah's basket.
"Jimmy in the first half got things going our way," Thibodeau said. "His minutes were huge at the end of the second quarter. We had a lot of guys stepping up."
And when it finally ended, the Bulls exhaled. Thibodeau tweaked Noah, saying he "probably could've had 30 if he had made his dunks." Noah responded by blaming Hinrich, as the captain, for picking out bad basketballs to play with pregame.
Two years ago, the Bulls won a double overtime game here to improve their record to 8-5 en route to a 62-20 campaign.
"This was a grind-it-out game," Boozer said. "On the road, it's tough to get wins. This was a big one."