It was a quick conversation between Alex Caruso and Bulls assistant coach Mo Cheeks.
Just before the Suns and Bulls were preparing to start the overtime Wednesday, Caruso leaned into Cheeks and said, “If you would have told young Alex Caruso that he had to guard Kevin Durant one-on-one for the game, he would have been pretty excited. Probably a little scared but pretty excited.’’
What would young Caruso have said if he also was told that he would not only have to guard the best scorer on the planet, but also chip in 19 points, play 30-plus minutes off the bench and dig his starting unit out of an embarrassing first-quarter hole?
Well, grown-up Caruso did all that and more.
Thanks to yet another eye-opening performance by Caruso, arguably the team’s most consistent player this season, the Bulls came within a point of what would’ve been their signature win of the young season.
Alas, they lost 116-115 in overtime and dropped to 3-6.
“My takeaway is we know what we’re capable of, and it’s about doing it consistently,’’ Caruso said. “When we’re on, we’re on, and it looks really good, but when we’re off, everyone can tell there’s something missing.’’
Something was definitely missing at the tipoff. The starters looked like they weren’t sure about when the game was supposed to start.
With Bradley Beal making his season debut for the Suns, it looked like his addition would be all they’d need for an easy night.
And through the first seven minutes, Durant & Co. were completely dialed in.
By the time Bulls killer Grayson Allen made a three-pointer, the Suns were up 22-4.
Coach Billy Donovan started subbing in his bench earlier than usual, and the climb back into the game began. Caruso was a big reason why.
“[Caruso] was phenomenal,’’ Donovan said. “Once he got into the game, it kind of changed the flow of the game with what he did. He’s giving us a good boost.’’
The Bulls turned that early deficit into a deadlock at 57 at halftime.
From the start of the second half, what once appeared to be a bye night for the Suns turned into a slugfest with both teams trading blows.
Each time Phoenix seemed to grab the momentum — usually after another Allen three — the Bulls answered.
With just under four minutes left in regulation, Caruso tied the game at 103, setting the stage for a nail-biter.
The Suns kept putting the ball in Durant’s hands, and Donovan kept countering with Caruso, his All-Defensive first-teamer. Caruso forced Durant into an awkward 18-foot fadeaway to give the United Center faithful a free quarter of basketball.
And the showdown between the two wasn’t over.
With the Bulls up by one in overtime, Caruso again played irritant, tipping the attempted pass to Durant away for a steal, then going down the court for a bank-shot three.
Keita Bates-Diop made a critical three-pointer with 1:06 left, and after a turnover by Nikola Vucevic, Jusuf Nurkic made it hurt with a layup.
Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan had a chance to play hero, taking an 18-footer with the clock ticking down, but he missed badly, and the Suns came up with the ball.
Nurkic missed the first free throw and purposely missed the second, leaving 0.1 left on the clock for a miracle lob attempt, but it wasn’t to be as Caruso sailed one over a leaping Zach LaVine.