Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
Updated 2:25 AM
By Aggrey Sam
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Through the middle of the third quarter, it seemed as if the Bulls' positives strides on their current seven-game road trip were all for naught.
Then, the determination witnessed on the treacherous stretch kicked in, and buoyed by the return of Derrick Rose to the lineup, Chicago (9-6) utilized a sustained fourth-quarter run to get out of town with a 96-85 victory over the Kings (4-11).
Rose (30 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) returned to the lineup and picked off where he left off, making the game's first basket, as well as his next four shots.
"When I saw him walking around, he looked a lot better today. When I saw him walking around, he said he felt a lot better," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau about his star point guard, who was a game-time decision after sitting out Friday's buzzer-beater loss to Denver with a sore neck. "After he warmed up, I asked him again. He said he felt great, so I wasn't really concerned about it."
"I thought we were tired. Derrick really helped us a lot -- he had fresh legs -- he helped us a lot in the first half," added teammate Luol Deng. "I think Derrick is the best point guard in the league right now, as long as he just keeps playing like this. He carries us a lot and he's making a lot of us better."
Against the lowly Kings, it seemed as if the Bulls -- injury-riddled or not -- could cruise to an easy victory to close out their arduous road trip. However, Sacramento point guard Tyreke Evans (17 points, nine assists, six rebounds) -- Rose's fellow Rookie of the Year and successor at the University of Memphis -- had different ideas, matching his counterpart's effort with his own personal scoring binge to give the home team a slim winning margin.
Evans' smooth drives to the basket and transition scoring ability got a young Sacramento squad going, giving the sparse Arco Arena crowd something to cheer about. With momentum clearly working against them, Chicago trailed, 28-21, after a quarter of action, mostly by virtue of the Kings' aggressive play and inadequate Bulls defense.
Reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer (eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists) keyed a Bulls' second-quarter push with his aggressiveness and playmaking, capably aided by Joakim Noah's (17 points, eight rebounds, five assists) always-energetic interior play.
"I think he's in really good shape right now and the first half, he was the only one really on the board," Thibodeau said of Brewer. "They were knocking a lot of balls out of our hands and some stuff like that, but Ronnie, he was rebounding in traffic and his energy was real good. I wanted to get him quickly in the second half to get that energy back in the game.
"We have a number of players who have started a number of games in this league, so you know if you're down a guy or a guy gets into foul trouble, that whoever is going in is capable of playing well and I think it's been proven throughout the year so far."
Sloppy turnovers, however, led to the Kings countering their guests with easy fast-break opportunities, resulting in the home team maintaining their slight cushion and even extending it, despite Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserting his regulars.
Behind the likes of frontcourt youngsters Jason Thompson (18 points, nine rebounds), Donte Greene (13 points, seven rebounds) and Omri Casspi -- as well as Evans in the backcourt and veteran center Samuel Dalembert (12 points, six rebounds) -- the Kings simply outworked Chicago, leading to a the visitors facing a 57-44 halftime disadvantage.
After intermission, the Bulls attempted to chip away at the double-digit deficit, but Sacramento's persistent energy and ability to get high-percentage looks made that task nearly impossible. In the midst of trying to build an identity as a defensive-oriented team, Chicago appeared to be taking a step back in that department, possibly due to tired legs from the long road swing.
In their typical fashion, the Bulls would make an inevitable run, using a quicker lineup and an increased tempo to decrease the gap against their inferior opponents, although Thompson and Dalembert, in particular, continued to play well for the Kings. The opportunistic Bulls, seemingly over the lethargy that plagued them through the first half, trailed, 76-69, after three quarters.
Chicago's charge resumed at the start of the final stanza, with Deng (22 points, nine rebounds, four assists) leading the way offensively and a much-improved defensive effort (the Bulls forced multiple 24-second violations) leaving Sacramento stymied.
An emphatic Noah dunk off a nifty spinning post move -- part of 7-0 run to start the quarter -- tied the game, and the atmosphere in the arena was noticeably different.
"In the first half, it was hard to really judge anything we were doing defensively because the intensity wasn't there and our technique wasn't there. In the second half, once the intensity picked up and the technique picked up, it was better," said Thibodeau. "I didn't think our pressure was good enough in the first half -- in the second half, our pressure was much better and Derrick was tremendous. I thought Ronnie Brewer played with great energy. I thought that was a big lift and then Luol got going a little bit in the second half."
The Bulls' lead was short-lived, as the Kings refused to relent, perhaps smelling a rare victory on the young season was in their grasp. The game developed into a chippy, tightly-knit affair with hard fouls galore on both ends of the court.
More experienced in those situations, the Bulls began coming up with a knack for making the majority of the contest's pivotal plays -- grabbing loose balls, taking charges, hitting free throws -- down the stretch, with usual suspects Rose and Noah contributing heavily.
Rose's razor-sharp ballhandling allowed him to get into the lane and score with ease, while Noah's grit, defensive presence and finishing ability made an equally significant impact.
"Noah's never gassed. He played tough. He played a lot of minutes and the breakaway -- normally, that's a dunk -- but I thought his defense in the second half was tremendous," Thibodeau remarked about the charismatic center. "Multiple effort -- he was everywhere, he's challenging at the rim, he made it hard and -- that's what we need from him every night."
Brewer's first-half success carried over, as the offseason acquisition showed an increased comfort level in creating opportunities for himself and others, and Deng's timely scoring only helped the Bulls widen the gap between themselves and the young Kings.
The tables had turned, and what had been a nip-and-tuck battle turned into a comfortable Bulls lead going away as Sacramento derailed down the stretch to go 4-3 on the circus trip -- the first winning record on the annual road swing since the 1997-98 season, the last year of the Bulls championship dynasty.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.