Chicago Bulls: Sacramento Kings
The loss, the Bulls' fourth in their past five games, was the latest in a growing trend for a team that is tired and beat up and has had trouble scoring all season. The difference in this one was the sheer embarrassment felt by Thibodeau and his team after this game.
Players openly talked about how disgusted they felt. But they didn't seem to have a clear answer as to how to fix things.
They are looking around for an answer that isn't coming. The Bulls are not only running low on talent, without Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Derrick Rose, they're running low on belief. No longer so they feel they can outwork everybody and find ways to grind teams out.
"I think we all got to look at each other in the mirror and just understand that we're not competing the way we're supposed to be competing," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We got a lot of guys out, and our margin for error is very small. And if we're not going into games with the right mindset, then we have no chance."
Noah's sentiments are nice, but the reality for the Bulls is that the injuries, a brutal portion of the schedule, the offensive ineffectiveness and the constant speculation regarding Rose has taken a toll on this team. They were only able to block out so many different things for so long.
The Bulls look around the floor these days and notice who's not with them more than who is. They don't play the same way as they used to, and they no longer believe they have more than enough to win with on any given night. Once a few mistakes are made, everyone starts to look at each other on the floor for an answer that isn't coming.
The Bulls are headed in the wrong direction at the wrong time and they know it. They just don't know how to stop it.
"Our level of intensity was very poor," Thibodeau said. "Our readiness to play: very poor. I'm probably most disappointed in myself. My job is to have them ready. We can't come out like that. That's on me. That's on me.
“I didn't like our intensity in the Laker game. I didn't like it tonight, and I got to drive harder ... and I will."
Thibodeau can take all the blame he wants and he can talk all he wants about pushing his team even harder; the problem is that he has already pushed this team to the brink. They have tried as hard as they can to survive without Rose, but the injuries and the inconsistencies are too much for this team to overcome. They have hit a wall that even Thibodeau can’t push them through.
While the final score here in Sacramento might be long remembered in the aftermath of this game, the most telling part of the loss came in the second quarter as the Kings were in the midst of a 45-10 run:
Thibodeau, usually the most fired-up man in the gym, stood in place with his hands in his pockets as the Kings repeatedly ran down the floor and got whatever they wanted. Instead of barking out orders and shaking his hands, Thibodeau was resigned to the fact that there wasn't much more he could do.
His team is too banged-up and offensively inept at the moment to generate the type of efficiency needed to win many NBA games, let alone one against a team that came into Wednesday's contest with a 22-43 mark.
"We couldn't stop them," Robinson said of the Kings, who made 54.2 percent of their field goal attempts. "It starts with our defense. We just couldn't stop them. No matter what they did, no matter what shot they put up, they made. It felt like they didn't miss the whole game.
“It felt like that was the first team in NBA history to go 100 percent [from the field], that's what it felt like."
Noah understands that more is expected out of him this season. That's why he spent the summer rehabbing his ankle injury with his trainer Alex Perris. That's why he spent a couple of weeks in Los Angeles working with Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That's why he didn't appear to be exhausted after playing 40 minutes in the first game of the season.
He is focused on improving his game and picking up the slack while Derrick Rose recovers from a knee injury. His teammates and coaches have noticed the subtle differences around Noah's game already this season.
"To me, he's put a lot of work into his conditioning," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's been healthy which is the big plus for him. He's practicing a lot better this year, too. He's putting a lot more time into film. He's coming in ready to go, I thought he had a great preseason. Just coming in and trying to improve every day."
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 93-87 win over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Joakim Noah scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 40 minutes to propel the Bulls to the their first win of the season. Richard Hamilton added 19 points while Carlos Boozer chipped in 18 points and eight rebounds. The Bulls did just enough to lock the game up down the stretch. They have a lot of room for improvement, but it has to be good for the Bulls' collective confidence to win their first regular-season game this year without Derrick Rose.
What it means: The Bulls won this game the same way they are going to win most games without Rose. They played hard throughout the night and played solid defense. It's the Tom Thibodeau way since he came to Chicago and it was on full display again Wednesday night. They grinded this one out and made stops when they had to. Noah set the tone early with energy and seemed amped throughout the night. Hamilton found an early rhythm and Boozer came through with several big buckets in the final 12 minutes. The Bulls still don't have a clear go-to guy without Rose, but if they continue to play as a group like they did against the Kings, they will win plenty of games this season.
Stat of the night: Noah had a career-high five steals.
Hits: The Bulls were aggressive throughout the night -- to the tune of 19 second-chance points. They scored 25 points off of 21 Kings turnovers.
Misses: Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich combined to go just 4-for-20 from the floor for 10 points.
What's next: The Bulls will practice Thursday before heading to Cleveland. They face the Cavs on Friday night.
How it happened: Playing without Derrick Rose (back) for the third game in a row, the Bulls escaped with a win over an improving Kings team. Luol Deng started slowly, but finished the game with 23 points, a career high 11 assists and seven rebounds. Carlos Boozer added 16 points. Joakim Noah chipped in with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Kyle Korver played well off the bench scoring 18 points of his own.
What it means: The Bulls did what they had to do to pull off the win. Tom Thibodeau isn't going to be happy with the way his team played defense, or they fact they almost blew a 19-point lead, but he'll take a win when he can get it. Deng and company made plays when it mattered down the stretch and Korver hit several clutch free throws in the final seconds. While it may get lost in the shuffle of this game, Korver, John Lucas III and Taj Gibson came in and played very well off the bench. The trio combined for 42 points and 12 assists.
Stats of the night: With the win, Thibodeau clinched the right to coach the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game later this month in Orlando.
What's next: The Bulls hit the practice floor Wednesday before squaring off against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- For the first time in three games, Derrick Rose saw flashes of the team that compiled a 62-20 record during a breakout 2010-11 campaign.
The Bulls tried to push the tempo all night and it worked; they racked up 33 fastbreak points in a 108-98 win over the Sacramento Kings.
"We were running," Rose said. "Playing in a groove. Guys are really shooting the ball. My assists are going to be very high this year, I think. And we just got to keep winning, that's the biggest thing right now."
After playing sluggish during the first two games of the season, Rose repeatedly said that he wanted to push the pace whenever he was given the chance on Thursday night -- and he stuck to that script. Rose and the Bulls ran the ball up the floor, doing exactly the type of things Tom Thibodeau continually preached about in practice.
"I think [it's] big," Bulls guard Rip Hamilton said of the tempo. "Because we don't just want to settle in a halfcourt offense. When you get late in the season, playoffs and stuff like that, you've got to figure out a way to get easy baskets. And that's what Coach tried to emphasize, get out and run. Don't be so caught up in running a set play. Run for a layup first and then call a play."
The difference was obvious. When the Bulls attack, they can run past almost everyone in the league. It was a needed change for a team that was trying to find its way on both ends of the floor.
"We made an emphasis that we need to start playing faster," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "And I think we're definitely better when we run. We got a big lead. We got to find a way to keep building on that, but we definitely need to run more."
As Noah pointed out, for as well as the Bulls played in spurts against the Kings, there is still a lot of room for improvement. The defense was porous and the ball handling was sloppy at times (18 turnovers).
Still, given how frustrated the locker room had been after Monday night's loss to the Golden State Warriors, Thibodeau will take it.
"The difference in tonight's game and the Golden State game was the start of the game," Thibodeau said. "I thought we tried to do the right things at Golden State. But we turned the ball over and put them in the open floor. So we got in a hole right away. In this game, we came out and we were attacking and we got the lead. We played from ahead. In every game, there's some good things and some bad things and we still have a long way to go. But I liked the way we approached things ... I thought our guys practiced well. And usually when you practice well you play well."
When the Bulls run well, both Thibodeau and Rose agree, they usually play well. The key for the Bulls is getting back to the basics of last season and for them, that means speeding up the game whenever possible.
"We're great when we're aggressive on the break and we're pushing the ball," Rose said. "We have great shooters on the team that really know their job when they spot up. If they don't have the shot, pass the ball back out and we run the set."
How it happened: Carlos Boozer played his best game of the young season scoring 16 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Derrick Rose added 19 and Rip Hamilton chipped in with 16. The Bulls made enough defensive plays to win the game at the end, although Tom Thibodeau still won't be particularly happy with the way his team played.
What it means: Yes, the Bulls won, but Thibodeau is going to find plenty of reasons to be upset with his team. They still aren't playing as consistently as they did last year. Granted, a lot of that probably has to do with rust from the lockout, but Thibodeau and his players have set a higher standard for themselves. The Bulls started off this game running up and down the floor and attacking the rim like they did last season. But, there were too many stretches in which the Bulls played sloppy.
Stat of the night: The Bulls had 25 assists on the night. Joakim Noah (who had nine points) was the only Bulls' starter not in double figures.
What's next: The Bulls get right back to work Friday night when they face off against former coach Vinny Del Negro and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Bulls take on the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night after splitting their first two games of the season. They kick off a stretch of five games in seven nights, the first of many such stretches throughout this lockout-shortened season.
The condensed schedule will be one of the biggest obstacles for the Bulls to get back to their 2010-11 standards.
"It's early people are still ironing things out," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The schedule is different. The Lakers already went through their three in a row [stretch]. Boston's had a tough early schedule with travel, road games. Those things do factor into it, particularly where you haven't had your eight preseason games. But that being said, your urgency has to be great because all these games are important. They all carry equal importance, so this game [Thursday] is just as important as the game two months from now. That's the way everyone has to approach it."
That's the message Thibodeau has tried to impart to his players.
"Last year, that was kind of his philosophy," Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said. "Last season was just to take it one day at a time and one moment at a time because everybody's going to want to talk about this story or want to talk about that story. They want to talk about the summer and want to talk about the lockout ... his focus was just focus on what's right in front of you."
Noah agreed and said the Bulls will get in trouble if they look past their current opponent. In this case, it's the Kings, who beat the Lakers 100-91 on Monday.
"I think it's just taking it one game at a time," Noah said. "You just got to not worry about what's coming and just focus on your next opponent. Right now it's the Sacramento Kings, and we'll worry about what's coming up next, the next day. You can't overlook anybody. People in the NBA, teams are too good. Playing against the Sacramento Kings, there are no guarantees, it's not a guaranteed win. It's a team that beat the Lakers. They have a lot of offensive firepower, they're playing at home, and they're playing hungry against the Bulls so it's on us to come ready tonight."
Boozer, who followed up a 15-point performance in a win over the Lakers with a 6-point outing in a loss to the Warriors on Monday, believes that the difference for the Bulls offensively will come in their assist numbers.
"I think the games we have assist games, that's indicative of our offense and [whether] we're in rhythm or not," Boozer said. "You watched us last year. Most of the games that we were in rhythm we had over 20 assists, maybe over 25 some games. I think that's a good indication of how we're doing offensively."
Unbelievably, that's exactly what Rose and the Chicago Bulls did against the Sacramento Kings that night -- and he still seems to get sick to his stomach while re-living the memory.
"I remember that game, for sure," Rose said after Sunday's practice. "The celebration that they were doing after they won, I remember."
Rose still can't believe his team gave away the game and that will surely be on his mind when his Bulls take on the Kings Monday night.
"It's a heartbreaker," he said. "But you learn from it. If we're up 30, we're going to try to push it to 40, 50 points."
How did it even happen in the first place?
"I really don't know," he said. "They were playing hard. We had to relax. They just kept fighting, knocking down threes and getting easy baskets. And you look up, it's a tie game. They've got the momentum, and when teams in the league get the momentum, it's going to go their way."
Bulls center Joakim Noah remembers the game as well. He also remembers that it was a Nov. 27 game against the Kings earlier this season in which he tore his thumb ligament.
"When you were up 35 and then you lose, that sucks," he said. "And then when you tear your ligament in a game, that sucks, too."
The last word: Noah, on if his experiences winning two NCAA titles at Florida help him in preparation for the NBA playoffs:
"Every year is different. Every game is different. You've just got to come with the hungry mindset every day. You've got to enjoy the process. Enjoy playing in the big games. We're going to be under a lot of pressure, and coach said it today, If we're prepared, there's nothing better than playing in those big moments."
SACRAMENTO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Bulls gutted out another hard-fought 96-85 win on Saturday night at Arco Arena.
How it happened: Playing in their fourth game in five nights, the Bulls looked sluggish throughout the first half, but yet again they managed to find another gear down the stretch to secure their first winning "Circus Trip" (4-3) since 1998. After missing Friday night's game in Denver because of a sore neck, Derrick Rose came back to the lineup and played extremely well, hitting several big shots down the stretch and scoring 30 points. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah had big nights as well, with Noah providing his usual emotional jolt for his teammates.
What it means: The Bulls have heart. That's the biggest thing you can take away from this game -- and from the road trip. The Bulls were in every game and managed to sneak out this win despite the fact they were running on fumes. Tom Thibodeau has instilled a belief in his team that it can win on any given night, no matter who is playing and no matter what obstacles they face. Saturday night's win proves yet again just how much the Bulls are buying into Thibodeau's system, especially after the heartbreaking defeat they endured in Denver.
Stat of the night: Derrick Rose was 10-for-23 from the floor for 30 points in 42 minutes of action. A stat which is even more impressive considering he wasn't sure if he would play on Saturday because of continued issues with a stiff neck.
What's next: The Bulls take a much needed day off Sunday before returning to the Berto Center Monday for practice. It will be the most anticipated practice of the early season considering Carlos Boozer is expected to participate without any restrictions for the first time in almost two months. The Bulls next game is Wednesday at the United Center against the Orlando Magic.
Nobody could believe what they were seeing in the United Center on Monday night. Players, fans, media, it didn't matter. Everybody was in some state of awe.
Especially Gavin Maloof.
The Kings owner couldn't contain his excitement after the game. His team had just won a game in which they trailed by 35 points in the third quarter. He had the look of a man who had just won the lottery. Sacramento Bee reporter Sam Amick tried to capture Maloof's joy after the game with a quick video interview. What he didn't expect to capture was the complete misery on the face of another man walking down the hall.
That man was Vinny Del Negro.
About 35 seconds into the clip, the dejected Bulls head coach walks right past a joyous Maloof in the tunnel on the way to his post-game press conference.
The brief interlude perfectly illustrates the wide range of emotions that everyone felt on this night.
Paul Westphal couldn't contain his excitement as he headed back into the Kings' locker room after the game.
"They should've gone up by 40," the veteran coach exclaimed.
The sense of joy in his voice was palpable.
Just down the hall, the misery coming from the Bulls locker room was just as present. Joakim Noah sat in front of his locker and leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed. He couldn't believe that his team had just blown a 35-point lead.
In truth, nobody in the United Center could.
Derrick Rose when asked if something like this has ever happened in his career: "Never. But I guess there's a first time for everything. Just nonchalant attitude, I guess. But we'll be fine."
Tyreke Evans on the game as a whole: "Wow, that's all I can say. Wow. That was crazy. I've never been a part of a team that came back like that."
Vinny Del Negro when told people were saying they've never seen something like that: "I haven't either. It happens. It's happened before. It's frustrating. It's difficult. But, what are you going to do, put your head down and feel sorry for yourself. You gotta go play. This is the NBA. These are pros ... "
Jason Thompson on the game: "I don't think I would have said at halftime that I would have come out with a smile on my face, but this is great."
How do you blow a 35-point lead?
In the third quarter?
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
Bulls forward Luol Deng blamed the team's relaxation for their blown lead against the Kings.
Against a team that you have been completely dominating all night?
Those are the questions that the Bulls have to answer now. Those are the ones that will haunt them for the foreseeable future after the Kings came back to stun them 102-98 on Monday night.
And, ultimately, those are the questions that could Vinny Del Negro his job.
"It's tough," the embattled Bulls coach said after the game. "We had it going pretty well in the first half. We just stopped being aggressive. Stopped moving the basketball in the third quarter I thought. It kind of just got contagious.
"Then in the fourth quarter we couldn't get any stops when we needed to. Gave [the Kings] too many points. And we went cold. But, we weren't aggressive ... we didn't play together. Very disappointed, obviously. We're not good enough to take a minute off, never mind a half. Just not good enough."
Not good enough at all.
The Bulls played their best basketball of the season during the first half. They shot well (60 percent) and played with the type of energy that Del Negro has been begging for all year. Then, as it has so many times over the past month, everything went south for the Bulls. They played tighter than they had all year. They had been down so many times this season that they didn't know how to play with a lead.
They had no idea how to close the game.
"We relaxed," a frustrated Luol Deng said. "We were up too many points and we relaxed ...Everybody's down. It's a tough loss knowing that you should have won. And knowing that you played well [for] three quarters and just didn't finish the game."
The Bulls' collapse was the second worst in NBA history and the worst second-half collapse ever. "That's the first time I've ever been involved in that," a hushed John Salmons said. "It's a tough loss. I don't even know what to say."
Neither did anyone else. The Bulls locker room felt like a funeral home. It was eerily quiet and everyone looked miserable. Nobody could believe what had just happened. Nobody had a clue what was going to happen next.
"You have to execute," Del Negro said. "And we kind of got a little bit complacent there. And they jumped on it. They took advantage of it. We didn't answer when we had to, so everyone takes a little blame. It's me, it's the players, it's the coaches, it's everybody. You have to do just do a better job, and learn from it and get better from it, hopefully. But this one's tough."