Sleep Train Arena has been a house of horrors for the Bulls the last few seasons, and it was no different this year. Chicago hung around against Sacramento despite playing poorly without Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol, but they just didn't have enough in a 103-88 loss.
The Kings' trio of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison were simply too much for the Bulls, who dropped their first road game of the season. Cousins really put his imprint on the game in the second half, and he finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. Gay added 20 points on 11 shots, while Collison had 17 points and 12 assists.
There weren't too many positives for the Bulls, but Jimmy Butler was absolutely superb again. Butler scored a game-high 23 points on 11-of-18 shooting, and he did much of his damage off the dribble. He used both hands to get to the rim at will, and he continues to finish at the basket at an extremely high level. (8-of-9 in the restricted area) He probably should have scored even more, but he surprisingly didn't get many calls going to the bucket. Still, this offensive improvement is incredible and looks more and more legit with each passing day.
Joakim Noah was also really active, finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Noah shot just 5-of-13 and missed a few easy bunnies, but his energy was one of the only things the Bulls had going for them in the second half.
The Bulls shot just 42.9 percent overall and 5-of-19 from three, which is pretty shocking given how well they played in the first quarter. Chicago scored 29 points in the opening quarter, with six players scoring at least four points. The Bulls shot 5-of-11 from deep in the first quarter, meaning they didn't make a single three the rest of the game. That's not a recipe for success.
The Bulls had a seven-point lead after the first quarter, but their reserve heavy unit struggled once again in the first half, and it was Derrick Williams' turn to be the sub to go off against Chicago. Williams entered the game with 11 points all season, but he scored 10 points in an aggressive first half. Williams sparked the Kings back into the game, and Gay carried the torch into the half, scoring 10 points in the quarter. Sacramento shot 63.2 percent from the field in the second quarter to take a five-point lead at halftime.
Not helping matters was some foul trouble for the Bulls' bigs. Nikola Mirotic knocked down a couple of jumpers and even took a heat check three (which I really don't mind), but he had issues guarding Williams on the other end. Mirotic picked up four fouls in eight first-half minutes, and after Taj Gibson went to the bench with three fouls, we got a Cameron Bairstow sighting. Bairstow was naturally a bit lost out there, which was one of the reasons the Kings got so many easy looks in the second quarter.
That foul trouble continued into the second half when Noah picked up three cheapies almost consecutively, with the third a pretty questionable call 90 feet away from the basket that was sold well by a Cousins flop. Noah almost pulled a repeat of his meltdown last year in Sacramento, but he was only called for a technical before heading to the bench with five fouls. (while likely letting loose a few more expletives)
Meanwhile, the Bulls' offense couldn't get much going outside of Butler layups. The Kings' hot shooting continued, and they went up by as many as 16 points before a brief Aaron Brooks spurt kept the game within reach. Cousins really flexed his muscles in the third quarter, putting up 10 points, six rebounds and three assists. You could also say he was getting a pretty beneficial whistle, and I won't argue with that one bit. I'm certainly not going to blame this game on the refs because the Bulls played poorly overall, but they didn't help.
With this being the first of a back-to-back, I was kind of hoping Tom Thibodeau would let the reserves play most of the fourth quarter and let them see if they could get back into the game. That was a silly notion of course, as Thibs mostly went with the starters in an ill-fated comeback attempt. Noah finished with 37 minutes, and after 36 minutes in the last game, that minutes restriction may be a thing of the past. Butler "only" played 37 minutes, but it should be noted that he appeared to re-aggravate his shoulder/thumb injury on an alley-oop attempt early in the second half. Not that it really affected his play at all.
Kirk Hinrich's actual play on the court wasn't noteworthy at all and was mostly bad, but he's apparently hurt:
Hinrich X-rays were negative. Bulls say he has a chest contusion.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 21, 2014
Given the fact that Rose is also hurting, it's not a good thing if Hinrich goes back to the well.
In the end, I'm not really disappointed with this loss. The Bulls were missing two of their best players and were on the road in a place where they've struggled recently. Plus, the Kings winning gives Chicago a better chance at getting that pick from the Luol Deng trade. So there's that.
Next up is the Trail Blazers on Friday night. Who knows if Rose will play (looking like a no?), but it's almost a year to the day since he tore his meniscus on the Moda Center court last season. If he does suit up, hopefully he's not thinking about it too much and just plays his game.