Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose, right, drives past Phoenix Suns Shaquille O'Neal during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009, in Phoenix.
PHOENIX - After finally winning three straight games for the first time in more than two years, the Bulls were well-aware that Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf called their season a "disaster" during a television interview Friday morning. Whether or not they cared depends on the player.
"I guess it was just like perfect timing," Ben Gordon said. "We kind of started playing better after he made that comment. Maybe he needs to come out more often and make comments like that."
Added Kirk Hinrich: "I'm motivated. I don't need people to say things to motivate me. It's how he felt. He is our boss. It's unfortunate. All we can do is try to get better."
On Saturday night in Phoenix, the Bulls demonstrated that their strong play against the Clippers and Kings earlier this week wasn't strictly the result of weak competition.
They led the Suns from start to finish and produced a season-high point total during an emphatic 122-111 victory. As the final seconds ticked down, the Bulls (21-27) actually got a standing ovation in an enemy arena from a few hundred transplanted fans, who were pretty much the only ones who stayed in their seats.
"I feel like even during that (five-game) losing streak we kind of had some tough luck," Hinrich said. "We kind of got bogged down late in games. Right now, not to get carried away, but we're playing better as a team. We're trying to do the right things out there and I think it's paying off."
Derrick Rose seemed to invent a new shot for this game - the "Shaq in the box." Whenever Rose approached massive Suns center Shaquille O'Neal, he launched a one-handed floater that fell through the net more often than not.
The rookie point guard also threw down some impressive dunks, including a one-handed tomahawk off an offensive rebound. But Rose asked to leave the floor twice after hurting his left foot. He sat out the final 6:41 after piling up 26 points and hitting 12 of 19 shots, but the Bulls don't believe the injury is serious.
"I used to do that in Memphis," Rose said of his floater. "Shaq is a big person to shoot over, then there's Amare (Stoudemire). I'm good with floaters, so that's why I shot it. Last year, watching (college teammates) Chris Douglas-Roberts do it, I just got used to it."
Ben Gordon (26 points) helped hold off a couple of Phoenix comeback attempts. He buried a 3-pointer after the Suns closed within 88-85 early in the fourth quarter. Then when Phoenix (25-20) trimmed a 10-point deficit to 105-101, Gordon drained a 3-pointer with Grant Hill in his face to boost the lead to 7 with 3:53 remaining.
After the Bulls forced a 24-second violation, Hinrich found Luol Deng for a layup and 3-point play to make it 111-101, while O'Neal fouled out on the play. That essentially sealed the outcome, though Thabo Sefolosha finished it off by nailing a 3-pointer with 1:32 left.
The Bulls scored the first 5 points of the game and never lost the lead, despite facing a gargantuan free-throw deficit. At the end of three quarters, the Suns had attempted 36 free throws, compared to 11 by the Bulls. The final tally was 40-22 in free-throw attempts.