Last night, the Bulls beat the Kings. For the record, the Kings have lost 10 of their last 11 games and were clobbered 100-82 by the Clippers during their last outing.
By beating a bad team, Chicago wrapped up their seven-game circus road trip with a 4-3 record, a mere one game over .500. In many ways, what they accomplished doesn’t seem like a big deal. And it’s not…
…it’s a huge deal.
See, the Bulls didn’t just beat the Kings last night. They didn’t just come up with a win at the tail end of a long road trip on the second night of back-to-backs which also happened to be their fourth game in five nights.
No, Chicago also defeated history. Since Michael Jordan retired in 1998, the Bulls had gone 10-61 on their annual circus trip. Last season, they went 1-5.
So by winning last night’s game, the Bulls overcame more than a decade’s worth of psychological baggage and a seeming belief that “We can’t do this.” I can tell you that I’ve seen a lot of giving up on this trip during the post-Jordan years.
The Kings came out on fire and the Bulls stumbled out of the gates, falling behind 57-44 at the half. But the Bullies didn’t quit. During the third quarter, they chipped away at Sacramento’s lead. During the fourth, they turned their defense up to 11 and Derrick Rose (30 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) orchestrated a 27-9 blitzkrieg that broke his opponents’ will.
Said Luol Deng:
“Derrick is great, I think he’s the best point guard in the league right now. He can carry us a lot. He makes all of us better players.”
Rose has some stiff competition in the “best point guard in the league” category. But he sure can carry those Bulls. The great thing is…he doesn’t always have to.
Deng finished with 20 points, a game-best 14 free throw attempts and a game-high plus-minus score of +20. Joakim Noah contributed 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocked shots. Kyle Korver (8 points, 5 rebounds, +15) and Ronnie Brewer (10 boards, 8 points, +12) both provided a big lift off the bench.
Were these guys determined? How else do you explain a road weary team running out for 20 fast break points and earning a 33-17 advantage in free throw attempts on the road?
These Bulls don’t quit. They just don’t.
Said Noah: “This is a game where there were a lot of excuses. Four games in five nights. Carmelo hitting that shot [Friday]. Injuries. People make a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day you got to go out there and you got to play. I think that that’s what we’ve done so far.”
ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell says the team’s new attitude comes from coach Tom Thibodeau. It’s hard to argue. Despite the fact that Carlos Boozer hasn’t played a single game, everything about this year’s team feels different than last year’s squad.
Noah agrees…but also thinks much of it comes from within the players: “Where does that competitive spirit come from? I think it’s just our character. It’s our character. We’re a team that, we dig in, we dig deep, and that’s something that not everybody has.”
That’s something the Bulls didn’t always have last season…or the last 1o-plus years. But they have it now.