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Bulls don’t get royal treatment from the Kings
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 4
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 their 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.
There is beauty in many things in this world that could be considered unpleasant. There’s manure, an organic material which produces growth. Or perhaps age wrinkles, which can designate wisdom. Some may wince watching child birth, which is the pure beauty of life. There is a famous episode of the Twilight Zone TV show in which a woman tries desperately to change her face with numerous plastic surgeries. We see her as beautiful, but she is devastated. Everyone else in her world is hideously deformed. So she is different, and thus ugly.
Beauty is perception. What is it really? Is there a difference between beauty and ghastly?
Now take the Bulls’ 99-70 loss to the Sacramento Kings Monday. Please. There’s no philosophical puzzle to that one. It was one of the ugliest nights in franchise history.
Not only did the Bulls shoot 28.2 percent in scoring 70 points against the worst defensive team in the league that was yielding the highest opponent shooting percentage and 28th in opponent scoring. But the Bulls were dominated on the boards 53-30 and in the paint 48-14.
Joakim Noah in a frustration driven meltdown was ejected in the third quarter after two technical fouls. He then chased after the officials, screaming obscenities that likely will make him the victim of the first major fine of the Adam Silver commissionership. How did Mark Cuban not beat him to it?
It really was a disagreeable day all around for the Bulls.
It started at morning shootaround with the usually restrained Carlos Boozer complaining to reporters about his lack of fourth quarter playing time and continued with Jason Kidd beating out Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau for Eastern Coach of the Month in one of Thibodeau’s best coaching jobs. And then it was season lows for scoring and shooting with the third loss in four games as the Bulls head into Phoenix Tuesday to play one of the hottest and highest scoring teams in the NBA in the third game in four nights on the road.
“We played poorly,” agreed Thibodeau. “The one thing about this league is that things can change quickly on you and they have. It can go from good to bad very quickly just as quickly as going from bad to good. We’ve got to change it. We’ve got to have more urgency. We’ve got to work our way out of it.”
It’s going to take a lot of work the way things are going as the Bulls fell to 23-24 with their disappearing offense. It’s not quite panic time, though there are some cracks showing both in the struggling offense and wilting defense and that a veteran like Boozer would challenge Thibodeau, which has been rare among this group.
But some around the team say it’s been building with Boozer in a combination of constant speculation about the team using the amnesty provision to release him this summer and a slump back in mid-December when Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Boozer had issues about his role. Boozer’s frustration, according to some players, has been higher this season amidst the drumbeat of talk he won’t be with the team. He and Thibodeau generally seem to have had an unspoken agreement that Thibodeau would avoid personal criticism and Boozer would accept his lack of a major fourth quarter role.
But it seems to have spiked this season with Taj Gibson’s emergence on the offensive end, which has kept Boozer sitting on the bench to close games even more often. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter the previous two.
So at the team’s morning practice Monday, Boozer expressed what really was a mild rebuke of the situation. Though given how little controversy there has been with the players since Thibodeau became coach in 2010, it stood out.
“I think I should be out there, but it’s (Thibodeau’s) choice,” Boozer said. “I play. I don’t coach. But honestly, he’s been doing that a lot since I’ve been here, not putting me in the fourth quarter. Sometimes we win, more times than not we don’t. It’s very frustrating, especially when I’ve got a great game going. Obviously as a competitor, you want to help your team win and especially when the game is close you can do things that can help your team win. And not being out there, all you could do is really cheer them on.”
It was unusual for Boozer, who rarely goes into any detail with media and has been a staunchly supportive teammate. But Thibodeau also has fussed over Gibson this season like a teacher’s pet, and added more when asked about Boozer’s comments.
“I’m asking Taj to sacrifice not starting, and in some cases Carlos has to sacrifice not finishing,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice what might be best for yourself for what’s best for the team. That’s what I love about Taj. Taj could be upset he’s not starting. He never complains. Whatever you ask him to do, he just goes out there and does it. To me, what he does speaks volumes. He’s not talking about it. He’s going out there and doing it. It’s my job to get the best out of everyone and to do what’s best for the team. So that’s what I’ll do. Carlos has a lot of pride. He should want to play. But you have to get it done, too. You can’t play everybody. Right now, Taj has the hot hand. So that’s the way we’re going. I can only base it on performance. So when we’re going down the stretch in the fourth quarter it’s always going to be the group that gives us the best chance to win.”
Boozer got to play almost seven minutes in the fourth quarter because Noah was ejected in the third quarter. But Boozer picked a bad day to ask for more playing time as he obviously was shaken by his concerns in shooting four of 15 with by far the poorest plus/minus of all the Bulls players.
It was perhaps understandable given all the talk about amnesty at a time when Boozer always has been a model and supportive teammate. Maybe he felt he had to produce higher averages if he is going to be on the market, which the Bulls have not said and certainly have not decided with a weak free agent market this summer. Plus, the way Thibodeau coaches Boozer has frequently sat out fourth quarters or large portions because Thibodeau always likes to finish games with defensive players.
But from that unsettling morning, the Bulls day didn’t get much brighter as they were dominated from the start by a 16-32 Kings team working on seven straight losses.
Sacramento led 24-12 after one quarter and saw the Bulls actually go ahead 33-30 midway through the second quarter. But the Kings recovered to take a 44-33 halftime lead.
The Kings maintained that edge five minutes into the third quarter when Noah apparently had enough after being called for a foul while being locked up with DeMarcus Cousins, who led the Kings with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Noah a few minutes earlier had pleaded for a foul on a drive just as Cousins seemed on the verge of losing his composure. Cousins, widely regarded as the hottest of NBA hot heads, had taken several cheap shots at nemesis Mike Dunleavy, with whom he’d had an altercation last season.
But Noah went out first. And the game for the Bulls pretty much went as well without their All-Star, whose streak of 18 consecutives games with double figure rebounds ended with four points and four rebounds. Jimmy Butler with 17 points was the only Bulls starter to score in double figures while the Bulls shot 28.2 percent and missed a dozen free throws.
“I think tonight we just couldn’t buy a basket,” said Kirk Hinrich, who was one of eight as Noah was one of six. “I don’t think we were taking bad shots. I think we were getting good shots. I just think we started pressing a little bit. Human nature is when things aren’t going good you want to try and do something yourself to get us going. Reality of it is we have to rely on each other and find different ways to win on nights like this.”
Noah did something to get himself going to the locker room with the Bulls trailing 51-40. He ran gesticulating toward official Rodney Mott. Hinrich tried to hold back Noah, but just sort of shrugged and let him go as the second technical was called. Noah then had to be escorted off by Bulls security director Eric Buck. Noah did it with a flourish, gesturing toward each official like he was in a Broadway dance number.
And then he excited curtain left.
Noah was contrite afterward, which likely won’t save him from a hefty fine.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Noah. “I shouldn’t have acted that way. I apologized. I’m sorry. All three of the referees out there were trying to do their jobs and I should’ve never said the things that I said. Hope they accept my apology. I hope we can move on from this. I think I was just frustrated with the game. You’ve got to give Sacramento a lot of credit. They played really well. They deserved to win. We have to step it up. I think I was just frustrated with the way the game was going. I was frustrated with the call, but it doesn’t give me the right to do what I did. I deserved to get ejected. It’s just a bad decision on my part.”
The Bulls made a bit of a surge then with a Dunleavy three and a pair of free throws, but it wasn’t going anywhere. The Kings led 71-57 after three and blew the game open with a 9-1 start to the fourth quarter.
Dunleavy had his own little drama going on with Cousins, who last season elbowed Dunleavy in the head and was ejected in a game with the Bucks. Cousins took several shots at Dunleavy during the game, jumping into him on one occasion in what should have been a flagrant foul. It was just before Noah’s ejection, which seemed to calm Cousins.
But after the game, Cousins told Sacramento reporters regarding Dunleavy: “He’s a clown. And he’s scared. I wouldn’t even waste my time on him if I ever saw him outside the gym. He’s a clown.”
One thing we are certain about is Dunleavy isn’t scared.
After the confrontation last season, Dunleavy told the Sacramento Bee, “He’s just always talking, always running his mouth. He came up to me and got in my face about stuff. We’re here to play basketball and this guy’s got other stuff going on, obviously.”
Dunleavy despite appearances is a feisty player and one of the tougher guys. Cousins claimed after their rhubarb last season he asked Dunleavy if he tried to undercut him.
“I asked him, I was like ‘Was that on purpose?’” said Cousins then. “And his response was ‘What if it was? What you goin’ to do about it?’ And that’s what, you know, kind of got me.”
I can’t say that sounds like Mike Dunleavy.
But like Taj Gibson said, Dunleavy never hesitated to go to the toughest parts of New York for a game.
Yes, that’s the kind of a day it was. And then with a few minutes left in the game and the Bulls trailing 95-67, Derrick Williams stole a D.J. Augustin pass and headed down court alone for a score. Except he threw the ball off the backboard to himself as now, yes, the Kings were making fun of the Bulls. Appropriately, Williams dropped the ball and missed the dunk and was taken out of the game by coach Mike Malone.
“You’ve got to be able to deal with it when you’re not shooting the ball well,” said Thibodeau. “You should be able to count on your defense and rebounding. And so we didn’t shoot it well and we didn’t defend well. We didn’t rebound well and when you play like that you have very little chance to win.”
It was as bad as it gets for the Bulls as they scored four points in the first six minutes of the game after Boozer opened the game with jumper. It’s Thibodeau’s style to try to accommodate an unhappy veteran. But one reason Boozer gets pulled late in games other than Gibson being a better defender is Boozer’s reliance on fadeaway jump shots. He is a good shooter, and the Kings knew that. They double teamed him when he held the ball, as he does often looking for plays to develop, or when he began to go into a move. It seemed to disrupt him and he missed his next five shots.
Thibodeau went to Tony Snell early and the rookie had a nice sequence with a block and then a runner to get the Bulls within 12-9. He and Gibson were the only other double digit Bulls scorers with 11 each.
But the Kings were quicker to the loose balls and second shots, Cousins going up with a miss for a three-point play and Augustin having defensive issues after Hinrich went out as the Kings took that 24-12 first quarter lead. Hinrich returned to the starting lineup, but he shot poorly. However, when Augustin came in, Isaiah Thomas went right past him and to the basket, finishing with 19 points.
After the Bulls made that little run in the second quarter that included a nice alley oop play from Noah to Gibson and a heck of a directed tip by Nazr Mohammed for a Gibson three point play, the Bulls got caught in a bad mismatch.
Butler, who had three more steals and 25 in the last 10 games, did a good job denying Rudy Gay. But Butler went out midway through the second quarter and Gay went right at Dunleavy for four straight scores and the Kings went on to lead 44-33 at halftime. Also, Cousins was knocking Noah all over the place and running over Gibson to the basket, which likely was the cause of much of the frustration.
Noah got that first technical two minutes into the third quarter with the Bulls trailing 48-33 and it wasn’t long before he was doing a sequence from the Flashdance movie. Oh, yes, what a feeling it had to be for Jo to wake up those judges.
And now the Bulls need to do some waking up of their own.