Bulls overthrow Kings. Free selves from bonds of defeat.


Jan 7

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

You can uncover your eyes now and look up. You can offer that “Whew.” Maybe roll your eyes a bit and smile. On the scale of bad losses, this one could have earned a designation, like “Terrible Tuesday.”

“Tonight’s win was huge,” understated Derrick Rose, who had 16 points and eight assists in the Bulls 99-94 win over the Sacramento Kings in the United Center Tuesday.

You’re not supposed to feel relief at home in January beating an 8-28 Kings team playing its fourth in five nights on the road and having lost 10 of their last 11. Hey, fellas, how’s that new interim coach thing working out?

And not after you’ve got a 14-point lead.

But this was a fragile Bulls team that had lost six of seven and at home Saturday to fellow Western bottom feeder Minnesota. It was a Bulls team that seemed to be looking around for answers and help.

And though the Kings got within one point with 1:39 left and down two with the ball and a chance to even lead with 10 seconds left, the Bulls withstood it all to drag themselves to 15-20.

“We needed it bad, especially at home,” agreed Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 24 while Kevin Martin had 29 for the Kings. “We haven’t been playing well. That’s a team we should be able to beat and we needed to be able to take advantage of that and some of the other games coming up. We have a lot of home games that are winnable. But we have to take advantage of that. We’ve lost too many games that we had opportunities to win.”

Gordon got his usual team leading points. But it was a desperate return by Drew Gooden with 18 points and 10 rebounds despite not quite being fully recovered from his ankle sprain, and Rose rising up early in the game and taking charge when it seemed like the Bulls were ready to give in.

They didn’t shoot the ball well again, below 40 percent for the third straight, though Andres Nocioni finished the game on a streak of one straight made. That would be after opening with 10 straight misses to then. Nocioni cut his hair short, and it seems to me the last time he did this he was equally weak on his shot. He better start reading more of that Samson tale. For I know Ralph never really had too many haircuts.

Gooden was a savior with eight of the team’s last 15 fourth quarter points and six straight in one stretch midway through the quarter, the Bulls only points in a three minute stretch when he matched the Kings’ scoring on his own.

“We let them back in,” lamented Gooden. “I’m disappointed in myself. I had two chances to seal the game (late with free throws). But we needed this one bad. It was frustrating sitting there watching the team struggle.”

Go feel like a fan for a change. It hasn’t been fun to be one of the Bulls’ fans of late.

So thank you Derrick Rose.

I know we all wring our hands about how much he plays and how much is being asked of him. But this game could have been a blowout loss if he didn’t seemingly just decide he wasn’t going to let it be.

I know Lindsey Hunter does his best when he’s in there, pressures the ball a little bit, is a heck of a lot more active than most senior citizens. But until Kirk Hinrich returns, I may not take Rose out of the games at all.

The Kings came out and simply eviserated the Bulls with back door cuts and Brad Miller, with 18 points and 12 rebounds, shooting jumpers at the elbow like free throw practice. Aaron Gray was much too slow to react and never got back in the game after an opening six minutes and Miller with eight points.

The Kings led 23-22 after one, and then ran off an 8-2 sprint to open a 31-24 lead early in the second quarter. The Bulls were standing around shooting jumpers, which isn’t good for a team shooting badly.

“Yes, sometimes we get a little stagnant,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “I knew we could attack the basket. We just had to get to the free throw line and we shot the ball well there (making a remarkable first 28 straight), which was huge for us. We still don’t have our energy. Right now, for whatever reason, we are not crisp, and that has to get better.”

Del Negro got Rose back in with 8:16 left and Rose immediately split a double for a layup, made a hesitation move and scored again after an errant Tyrus Thomas jumper, and then after Hughes got Joakim Noah cutting for a lob, Rose blew past defenders down the left side and scored again to get the Bulls within one. Thomas then ran out after a Kings miss and was fouled on a breakaway, leading to a four-point play when Thomas made two free throws and Rose was trapped and found Thomas for a jumper.

Suddenly, the court was opening again for the Bulls as Kings defenders converged on Rose. Thomas and Gooden were able to follow misses when Rose attacked the basket and Thabo Sefolosha was doing a good job early on Martin. Sefolosha also is one of the few Bulls who keeps moving without the ball instead of running to a shooting spot, and Rose found him late in the quarter for a layup as the Bulls reestablished control 49-42 at halftime.

It also seemed the elements of a starting lineup forming again with Gooden and Thomas up front along with Sefolosha, Gordon and Rose. Luol Deng likely will replace Sefolosha when he returns from his ankle sprain, perhaps Friday or Saturday.

Their bigs were really relentless tonight,” said Miller of the Bulls 17-5 in offensive rebounds and 20-4 in second chance points. “They have a couple of guys that are very long and athletic which hurt us. Noah and Drew were especially tough on us and they just stick to it all night.”

Thomas also is starting to put together games with regular time as he had 14 points, six rebounds and three steals, the Bulls collecting 20 turnovers for 29 points, another reason they were able to overcome their poor shooting.

Nocioni then ended the third quarter with the rare triple of three misses on one possession as he missed each time after two offensive rebounds. But the Bulls led 75-67 after three quarters.

Noah had just two points but six rebounds in 15 minutes. But for those who pined for Spencer Hawes, picked right after Noah in that 2007 draft, the Kings backup center looked slow and plodding, constantly behind the play and little factor in 16 minutes without a field goal and four fouls. I got the sense Gray would have liked a chance to go at him.

So it looked pretty good when Nocioni finally hit a shot, a three, and Hughes made a 17-footer with 8:17 left and the Bulls led 84-70. Fourth game in five nights. A team that’s blown fourth quarters all season. Last game on a road trip. Time to pack it in? The Bulls could have used a breather for some confidence. Instead, they got almost coughed one up.

Gooden talked of frustration watching while hurt, and it was frustrating to watch that fourth quarter lead slowly, seemingly inexorably, slip away as the offense devolved once again into a still life painting. Everyone would sort of stand around watching someone dribble and eventually the Kings would double and force a bad jumper or turnover.

“I wish I had a great answer (to the Bulls poor shooting) other than we are out of sync because of injuries and schedule,” said Del Negro. “We’ve had a tough stretch. Sometimes guys make every shot before the game and then miss everything before the game. You have to get good rhythm shots. Especially for the young players. When you get older, when you’re not making your shot you find ways to help the team. You have to make shots. You are not going to win games shooting 39 percent (and when the Kings shot 50.7 percent).”

It looked like here we go again for the Bulls.

Martin hit a three, Hughes missed. Beno Udrih drove for a score. Hughes made a bad pass turnover. Bobby Brown hit a three, Gordon dribbled a lot on his own, several times between his legs, which we always enjoy, and missed. Francisco Garcia took a lovely backdoor pass from Miller for a dunk. And, hello, it’s now 84-80 with 6:50 left. Game on.

The Bulls held the Kings off when Rose drove and missed and Gooden cut down the lane for a follow slam and Rose hit Gordon with three Kings running at him and Gordon was grabbed and got a pair of free throws. But Sefolosha—oh my gosh—fouled Martin on a three in the corner and Miller did his slow motion drive in which he’s almost called for a three second violation while moving. And he scored! And Garcia ran out for a score after picking Rose clean for a turnover.

Fortunately, the Bulls kept making free throws—whatever anyone says of Del Negro, he’s the best free throw shooting coach the team has ever had—and it looked good when Rose powered in a driving bank with 33 seconds left for a 95-91 lead. But Hughes fouled Martin on a three—yes, again—as Martin made two. Bulls by two with 21 seconds left.

Still watching? C’mon, can they lose this one?!

The Kings had to foul, and Gooden got the inbounds, which I’d question with Gordon on the floor. Gooden made one of two: 96-93 with 21 seconds left.

The Kings?

Martin drove and was fouled, the ball just rolling off the rim. He made the first and missed the second. But heady Miller got inside for the rebound and passed to Martin on the baseline. But he took a quick jumper to tie despite having time to set and missed. Again the Kings needed to foul, and again Gooden wound up with the ball, and again he missed one.

So it was Bulls by three with nine seconds left after a timeout.

Martin went to the top of the key, but the Bulls closed hard and he drove, missing as Sefolosha got the rebound, was fouled and made both to—finally!—close it out.

“It’s a play where I come up the middle and if the three is open, take it. ” said Martin. “I think we needed a three. I just felt pressure and took it to the hole and missed it.”

Uh, but that only gets you within one, eh coach?

“Kevin knew we were down three,” said Kings interim Kenny Natt. “He just decided to take it to the basket. He decided to go for the two. Our decision making down the stretch has hurt us. He’s our leader, though, and came on strong so we know he was trying to do the right thing. The play was set up for Kevin to come up on top looking for a three. He must have felt the pressure on him. As the Bulls collapsed on him we thought he’d pass it out.”

See, it’s not just the Bulls who do that stuff.

Though I was also thinking that with Martin with the ball and five seconds left and three ahead I would have been fouling.

See, I’m willing to admit when my second guess isn’t the right answer. Mercifully, the Bulls had enough against the Kings.

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