SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 29: C.J. Watson #7 of the Chicago Bulls passes the ball while guarded by Travis Outlaw #25 of the Sacramento Kings at Power Balance Pavilion on December 29, 2011 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The Bulls out-ran and out-shot the Kings all night long for a 108-98 win in Sacramento on Thursday night, but sloppy rebounding, bad second and third efforts, and inconsistent officiating kept the game close. It would've been nicer to see a scoreboard blowout where starters were rested by choice, but instead they were rested in foul trouble. Fortunately, the Bench Mob showed it's highest sign of cohesion throughout the evening.
The Bulls jumped to 2-1 on the shortened season starting the game with a 19-2 run that put them up 19-5 with around six minutes left in the first quarter and never turned back. They led by as many as 15 and most of the game by double digits to get a relatively easy, though frustrating win.
Derrick Rose (19 points, on 7-for-14, eight assists) fulfilled his promise by coming out with the aggressiveness his game lacked in the first two games of the season. The aggressiveness also translated into six turnovers and five fouls. To his credit, two fouls usually go his way and the fourth -- taking him out of the third quarter -- was a reach-in that doesn't occur if his bigs had helped on a penetrating Jimmer Fredette sooner.
"Yeah, I think I'll pass that along to the officials too," he said while discussing Rose's aggression at the rim. "He was in an attack mode right from the start of the game and that's usually who he is. I thought he set the tone at both ends. He's got to drive with more force I guess. Sometimes I think him being such a nice guy goes against him too. He's driving the ball ... I think it's been [in the last two games] four free throws, six free throws, and he's attacking the basket. He's getting hit sometimes. We got to have him continue to do it and generate the force and force them to make the call, because right now he's not getting the call."
Rose also expressed frustration.
"I'm kind of mad," he said. "The refs got me messed up. Late in the game, it threw off my game a little bit. But I told you from the beginning, just attacking the hole. They're giving me open shots, I'm going to take them. That's what I tried to do tonight."
Thibodeau was unhappy that Rose wasn't getting more whistles on offense. Rose, on the other hand, seemed most displeased with the fact that he was getting too many whistles on the defensive end.
All of that said, he was 4-for-6 at the rim and 5-for-6 at the line in only 32 minutes of a game where the gameflow never forced Rose to will buckets. There was still a bit too much of standing around and watching Derrick after he'd use a pick and put a move on his man, but the gameflow called for the Bulls to maximize their rest on offense. A gameflow with 34 combined turnovers, forcing a 97-possession pace.
The Bench Mob was outright fantastic. The Kings' bench isn't a pile of crap. J.J. Hickson (seven points, eight rebounds in 18 minutes) and Fredette (14 points on 5-for-10, three assists, three turnover in 24 minutes) were aggressive assets who can score and DeMarcus Cousins (15 points on 4-for-16, 12 rebounds) was making trouble on both ends of the court in long stretches against Omer Asik -- subbing for the oft-foul troubled Joakim Noah. Sacramento's bench simply couldn't create easy buckets against the Bulls defense and Thibs' squad executed the strategy of running the floor on rebounds and steals for 48 minutes, accumulating 33 fastbreak points.
That formula was no match for the Kings. The turnovers made it look ugly at times, but erring on the side of aggressiveness paid off.
- Carlos Boozer (16 points on 8-for-16, 15 rebounds) couldn't have a solid game without being frustrating, could he? His efficiency is clear in the total production and Chuck Hayes is no slouch, but there was no hard roll after setting picks, he wasn't taking the smaller man with his back to the basket, and wasn't finding open space off the ball when Rose attacked. He was 4-for-6 within nine feet of the rim, 4-for-10 taking jumpers ten-plus feet away and didn't get to the line once.
- C.J. Watson (eight points on 3-for-7, nine assists) played some of the best point guard of his life. The Kings backcourt defense is pretty bad and dribbling so much on offense drains their energy. Watson exploited this all night, raising the pace whenever he touched the ball off a failed Sacramento possession. In 16 minutes, he led the team in assists by simply taking outlet passes to the middle of the floor and trusting his teammates to run with him and find space in transition. He ignited a 10-0 run to start the second quarter and an 11-2 to close out the third with no turnovers. He clearly played according to his opponents in a great way with Rose in foul trouble throughout.
- Richard Hamilton (16 points on 7-for-15, two steals) locked down very well on the defensive end. Whether it was Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, or John Salmons, the man assigned to Rip had problems touching the ball. When they were able to get the ball in space, it was Rip sagging off when his man was two passes away. You can live with Rip erring on the side of over-helping in those cases when he locks his man down so well in the cases where he's one pass away. the three Kings guards totaled 51 points on 19-for-41 shooting, but that was largely due to Thornton draining 4-of-6 3s and Evans attacking to go 7-for-9 at the rim. (Luckily Evans bricked seven [SEVEN!!!] of his 12 free throw attempts.)
Offensively, Rip didn't cut to the basket without the ball as much as Rose's aggressiveness called for, hit only 3-of-9 two-point shots beyond ten feet, but went 1-for-2 on 3s and attacked with the ball to go 2-for-3 at the rim. He passes so well that you can live with this as a breath of fresh air; but cutting the baseline more when Rose is using the high pick n' roll will ease that pressure, forcing opponents to abandon Rip with the double team, watch Rose abuse single coverage, or hesitate and send Rose to the line.
- Noah (nine points on 3-for-5, four rebounds, two blocks, two turnovers, five fouls) was punked a bit by Cousins. The flop stood out, but Noah was reacting slowly and largely led to his five fouls. His reboudns were low because he was clearly the help anchor as Booz went after loose balls. Noah handled the ball extremely well and converted on his touches. But when he helps late, there's little padding and Cousins used this to sneak into space. Fortunately, Cousins is a see-through ballstopper, but the second and third reactions by Noah led to fouls every Cousins opponent knows to avoid. He did lead the team with a +15 in only 24 minutes, though, so it's clear his motor needs to be running on the floor and not iced on the bench in games where the strategy is to run, run, and run some more.
- Asik made that correct adjustment. After making a similar mistake that Noah was making and another on a Cousins drive form the high post, Rose said something to him, and Asik stopped trying to block Cousins. The result was Cousins running into a brick wall and embarrassing himself when the Kings were inching back on the scoreboard.
- When is the minutes management going to kick in? Is Luol Deng going be a 40-minute target every night? This is going to sound like a broken record and it's very early, but Thibs is gambling hard on the endurance of a young man with a history of shaky wheels. Deng may be one of those where he's at least risk in constant motion, but the wear-and-tear of 150-200 minutes per week is dangerous enough to just have a guy run out of gas come playoff time. He had his second straight good game (12 points on 4-for-9, six rebounds, four assists) and will likely have a regular season like the last, where the Bulls successfully leans on him. But -- especially on the road -- there's a lack of caution that's concerning.
The Bulls next play the Clippers Friday night in L.A. The tail-end of their first back-to-back was awful against a Warriors team that lost on Christmas to the Clippers. We know what we can see from the Bulls against awful teams on two days of rest; but against good teams in their house who love to run, no team looks like a safe bet -- even the Bulls.
Stats via Hoopdata.com.