We’ve seen this movie many times. The Bulls, devoid of true scorers, make just enough shots and just enough offensive plays to stay ahead while the defense makes the game pretty much unbearable for casual fans to watch.
We got another rerun Saturday evening in Chicago.
This time, the Kings were the paying customers as the Bulls time and again shut down DeMarcus Cousins in the post and Rudy Gay in mid-range. They turned back shot after shot at the rim and forced multiple turnovers.
On the other end, the Bulls made just enough shots to keep themselves ahead. Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler all had crucial supporting roles to play to that end as the game came to it’s final scenes.
But the starring role, once again and to nobody’s surprise, was played by Joakim Noah.
With 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists to go with five blocks and three steals, Noah filled every single category in the box score as he filed yet another stellar example for his growing top-ten-player candidacy.
The Bulls carried a one point lead into the fourth quarter as the two teams traded shots over the first six minutes of the period.
The defining play of the game and a play that showcased Noah’s abilities in full came with a little over five minutes to play.
Picking off a loose pass, Noah took the ball the length of the court around some tough defense to finish a left-handed hook off the glass while drawing the foul. If anything about Joakim Noah’s game remains underrated during this scorching stretch, it’s his dribbling ability.
From there, leading 79-73, the Bulls maintained their lead. The Kings made a couple of brief rallies in the dying moments that forced the Bulls to execute on offense, Taj Gibson’s baseline jumper stretching the lead back to five with 42 seconds to play.
DeMarcus Cousins would score four seconds out of a Kings timeout to cut the lead to three before Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy finished the scoring from the foul line.
The focus leading into the game was rightly on the Kings enigmatic big man DeMarcus Cousins. Dunleavy and Cousins exchanged a rather bizarre series of barbs in the Bulls 99-70 loss.
The Kings – Cousins, Quincy Acy and Reggie Evans in particular – dominated the glass against the Bulls, a feat not accomplished often. Sacramento outrebounded Chicago 55-40. The last team to achieve a margin nearly as close? The Kings in the February loss.
Sacramento enjoyed success on the offensive glass, grabbing 19 of their own misses compared to the Bulls paltry seven – five of which came from Taj Gibson. The Kings, however, failed to really capitalise, most notably coming up empty on a possession that lasted 70 seconds.
The Bulls improved to 37-29, now just one game behind and level on wins with the third-seeded Toronto Raptors (37-27) who host the Phoenix Suns tomorrow. Chicago moved two games clear of the 35-31 Washington Wizards in the race for first-round homecourt advantage.