Updated: Friday, Dec. 30, 1:19 a.m.
SACRAMENTO The opponent wasnt top-notch, the defense wasnt at a championship-contending level and overall, they probably made things more difficult than necessary, but a run-and-gun, aggressive approach sparked the Bulls (2-1) to a 108-98 victory Thursday night over the Kings (1-2) at Power Balance Pavilion.
What was impressive, however, was that even on an off night and an evening in which Derrick Rose was in foul trouble Chicagos effort didnt wane.
From the games opening moments, the Bulls long-held pledge for transition offense under head coach Tom Thibodeau came to fruition. The visitors ran early and often in the former Arco Arena, with everybody from center Joakim Noah (on a coast-to-coast layup, no less) to new acquisition Rip Hamilton (16 points) joining in on the fast-break fun.
Much better. I thought the first five minutes of the game, we got out and got some easy baskets, but it was triggered off of our defense. Thats the first priority, to get the defense established and the rebounding, and that gets us in the open floor and then makes the game a lot easier, observed Thibodeau. I thought our starters played with a lot more energy and I thought they competed on the defensive end, and thats what really got them going. I think when we do that, we have the chance to be a good team.
The difference between tonights game and the Golden State game was the start of the game, I thought we tried to do the right things at Golden State, but we turned the ball over and put them in the open floor, so we got in a hole right away. In this game, we came out and we were attacking, and we got the lead and we played from ahead, he continued.
Said Rose: The Bulls defense was better, way better. I think defensively, we got into them some parts of the game, he added. They still got easy baskets, but we can still clean up things much better.
Usual suspect Rose (19 points, eight assists) was, as promised, aggressive, getting to the basket in a determined fashion when he wasnt knocking down pull-up jumpers or distributing the ball to his teammates. Oft-maligned power forward Carlos Boozer (16 points, 15 rebounds) also shined in the early going, helping the Bulls to an early double-digit lead with his rebounding prowess, though a late-quarter Kings rally would trim the score to 30-24 by the end of the opening period.
Luol Deng (12 points, six rebounds, four assists), paired with the Bulls reserves early in the second stanza, maintained his first-quarter scoring to help regain momentum for the visitors, but the youthful home team, led by first-round draft pick Jimmer Fredette (14 points) last seasons leading scorer in college basketball has already built a cult following in Californias capital city quickly narrowed the gap.
Chicago, however, got back to what gave them an early advantage to begin with forcing turnovers with pressure defense, then pushing the ball in transition and behind the fast-break finishing of backup swingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points) and long-range shooting of designated marksman Kyle Korver, again obtained a comfortable cushion.
Thibodeau, who picked up a technical foul near the end of the half, began to filter in his regulars midway through the period and it was evident that Hamilton was starting to find his comfort zone with his new team, getting to spots on the floor where he could establish his potent mid-range game.
Meanwhile, despite the efforts of former Bull John Salmons (12 points), the visitors propelled by Roses relentless attacking and playmaking, as well as active team defense kept the heat on their hosts, but another Sacramento spurt, behind the scoring of guards Tyreke Evans (19 points) and Marcus Thornton (20 points), toward the end of the quarter made it a 60-53 game, in favor of the guests, heading into the break.
We always talked about the first five minutes of the game, the last five of the half, the first five of the second half, the last five of the game. So, thats another area that we have to address and clean up, said Thibodeau, who expressed his displeasure with the games officiating afterwards in milder tones than he did during the contest. Rose was in an attack mode right from the start of the game and thats usually who he is. I thought he set the tone on both ends.
Added Rose: I think being more aggressive, attacking the hole would get me open shots.
We were running. Running, playing in the groove. Guys are really shooting the ball. My assists are going to be very high this year, I think.
The home teams strong play carried over through the intermission, as the exuberant Kings, spurred on by a supportive crowd, rapidly encroached on the Bulls, who simply werent as crisp as they were for most of the first half, on either end of the floor.
Chicago attempted to right the ship behind Hamilton, but talented second-year big man DeMarcus Cousins (15 points, 12 rebounds) started to dominate the interior offensively with an array of post moves, agile footwork, surprising shooting range and brute strength.
Compounding the situation was Rose picking up his fourth foul midway through the period, but his understudy, C.J. Watson (eight points, nine assists, five rebounds), picked from where he left off in Mondays loss to Golden State one of the few bright spots, the former Warrior provided scoring punch in the aborted comeback and helped the Bulls acquire some breathing room. Boozer also picked up his game as the quarter waned on and at the end of three quarters, the Bulls had rebuilt their advantage, to the tune of an 85-75 lead.
C.J. came in and hes running our team, he got us some really good shots, said Thibodeau. Carlos stepped up big. I love the way Carlos rebounded the ball; I thought that triggered our break and then he got into rhythm offensively, right there at the end of the third. Thats a good sign for us.
Chimed in Rose: C.J. played great. He played aggressive, pushed the ball. Thats the biggest thing. When were aggressive, were great. When were aggressive on the break and were pushing the ball, we have great shooters on the team that really know their job. When they spot up, if they dont have the shot, pass the ball back out and were running the set.
Booz played good, he continued. Being aggressive, I think. Being more efficient, knowing what hes going to do when he catches the ball. Instead of jabbing, just taking his time. Get it and go. If he doesnt have it, pass it back out, pick-and-roll. He played good tonight.
Rose and Brewer combined to carry the offensive load early in the final stanza, maintaining Chicagos comfortable winning margin, but the reigning league MVP acquired his fifth foul with less than eight minutes remaining, erasing the proposition of an easy Bulls win.
The enigmatic Cousins who would eventually foul out after sending Noah to the sidelines with five fouls impacted the game both negatively and positively for the Kings, but in a contest that had devolved into a sloppy affair, Sacramento couldnt make up much ground.
Down the stretch of the game, the Bulls turnover woes returned to plague them, enabling the Kings to hang around, though the inexperienced squad couldnt capitalize on the visitors often unforced errors. Defense, Chicagos trademark during its banner 62-win regular season a year ago, was the order of the day late for the Bulls, and with clutch free-throw shooting to seal the deal, the team finished off the win.
Weve got to clean it up. Weve got to get them down. Wed like to be below 13 turnovers every game. Weve got a lot of work in that area. A lot of it is bobbles. Some of it is timing and spacing, so we have to continue to work on that and then just make simple plays, instead of trying to thread the needle, said Thibodeau. But I like the way we ran the floor and weve got to continue to do that. I thought our bench was terrific.
Rose concurred: The turnovers were from being aggressive, getting back in the rhythm. Me attacking tonight, I dont know if it felt new, but it made me feel good, just knowing that Im still capable of doing it. But Im just happy that we got the win.