Bulls rebound, outlast pesky Kings

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Bulls rebound, outlast pesky Kings

Updated: Friday, Dec. 30, 1:19 a.m.

SACRAMENTO The opponent wasnt top-notch, the defense wasnt at a championship-contending level and overall, they probably made things more difficult than necessary, but a run-and-gun, aggressive approach sparked the Bulls (2-1) to a 108-98 victory Thursday night over the Kings (1-2) at Power Balance Pavilion.

What was impressive, however, was that even on an off night and an evening in which Derrick Rose was in foul trouble Chicagos effort didnt wane.

From the games opening moments, the Bulls long-held pledge for transition offense under head coach Tom Thibodeau came to fruition. The visitors ran early and often in the former Arco Arena, with everybody from center Joakim Noah (on a coast-to-coast layup, no less) to new acquisition Rip Hamilton (16 points) joining in on the fast-break fun.

Much better. I thought the first five minutes of the game, we got out and got some easy baskets, but it was triggered off of our defense. Thats the first priority, to get the defense established and the rebounding, and that gets us in the open floor and then makes the game a lot easier, observed Thibodeau. I thought our starters played with a lot more energy and I thought they competed on the defensive end, and thats what really got them going. I think when we do that, we have the chance to be a good team.

The difference between tonights game and the Golden State game was the start of the game, 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 and we played from ahead, he continued.

Said Rose: The Bulls defense was better, way better. I think defensively, we got into them some parts of the game, he added. They still got easy baskets, but we can still clean up things much better.

Usual suspect Rose (19 points, eight assists) was, as promised, aggressive, getting to the basket in a determined fashion when he wasnt knocking down pull-up jumpers or distributing the ball to his teammates. Oft-maligned power forward Carlos Boozer (16 points, 15 rebounds) also shined in the early going, helping the Bulls to an early double-digit lead with his rebounding prowess, though a late-quarter Kings rally would trim the score to 30-24 by the end of the opening period.

Luol Deng (12 points, six rebounds, four assists), paired with the Bulls reserves early in the second stanza, maintained his first-quarter scoring to help regain momentum for the visitors, but the youthful home team, led by first-round draft pick Jimmer Fredette (14 points) last seasons leading scorer in college basketball has already built a cult following in Californias capital city quickly narrowed the gap.

Chicago, however, got back to what gave them an early advantage to begin with forcing turnovers with pressure defense, then pushing the ball in transition and behind the fast-break finishing of backup swingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points) and long-range shooting of designated marksman Kyle Korver, again obtained a comfortable cushion.

Thibodeau, who picked up a technical foul near the end of the half, began to filter in his regulars midway through the period and it was evident that Hamilton was starting to find his comfort zone with his new team, getting to spots on the floor where he could establish his potent mid-range game.

Meanwhile, despite the efforts of former Bull John Salmons (12 points), the visitors propelled by Roses relentless attacking and playmaking, as well as active team defense kept the heat on their hosts, but another Sacramento spurt, behind the scoring of guards Tyreke Evans (19 points) and Marcus Thornton (20 points), toward the end of the quarter made it a 60-53 game, in favor of the guests, heading into the break.

We always talked about the first five minutes of the game, the last five of the half, the first five of the second half, the last five of the game. So, thats another area that we have to address and clean up, said Thibodeau, who expressed his displeasure with the games officiating afterwards in milder tones than he did during the contest. Rose was in an attack mode right from the start of the game and thats usually who he is. I thought he set the tone on both ends.

Added Rose: I think being more aggressive, attacking the hole would get me open shots.

We were running. Running, playing in the groove. Guys are really shooting the ball. My assists are going to be very high this year, I think.

The home teams strong play carried over through the intermission, as the exuberant Kings, spurred on by a supportive crowd, rapidly encroached on the Bulls, who simply werent as crisp as they were for most of the first half, on either end of the floor.

Chicago attempted to right the ship behind Hamilton, but talented second-year big man DeMarcus Cousins (15 points, 12 rebounds) started to dominate the interior offensively with an array of post moves, agile footwork, surprising shooting range and brute strength.

Compounding the situation was Rose picking up his fourth foul midway through the period, but his understudy, C.J. Watson (eight points, nine assists, five rebounds), picked from where he left off in Mondays loss to Golden State one of the few bright spots, the former Warrior provided scoring punch in the aborted comeback and helped the Bulls acquire some breathing room. Boozer also picked up his game as the quarter waned on and at the end of three quarters, the Bulls had rebuilt their advantage, to the tune of an 85-75 lead.

C.J. came in and hes running our team, he got us some really good shots, said Thibodeau. Carlos stepped up big. I love the way Carlos rebounded the ball; I thought that triggered our break and then he got into rhythm offensively, right there at the end of the third. Thats a good sign for us.

Chimed in Rose: C.J. played great. He played aggressive, pushed the ball. Thats the biggest thing. When were aggressive, were great. When were aggressive on the break and were pushing the ball, we have great shooters on the team that really know their job. When they spot up, if they dont have the shot, pass the ball back out and were running the set.

Booz played good, he continued. Being aggressive, I think. Being more efficient, knowing what hes going to do when he catches the ball. Instead of jabbing, just taking his time. Get it and go. If he doesnt have it, pass it back out, pick-and-roll. He played good tonight.

Rose and Brewer combined to carry the offensive load early in the final stanza, maintaining Chicagos comfortable winning margin, but the reigning league MVP acquired his fifth foul with less than eight minutes remaining, erasing the proposition of an easy Bulls win.

The enigmatic Cousins who would eventually foul out after sending Noah to the sidelines with five fouls impacted the game both negatively and positively for the Kings, but in a contest that had devolved into a sloppy affair, Sacramento couldnt make up much ground.

Down the stretch of the game, the Bulls turnover woes returned to plague them, enabling the Kings to hang around, though the inexperienced squad couldnt capitalize on the visitors often unforced errors. Defense, Chicagos trademark during its banner 62-win regular season a year ago, was the order of the day late for the Bulls, and with clutch free-throw shooting to seal the deal, the team finished off the win.

Weve got to clean it up. Weve got to get them down. Wed like to be below 13 turnovers every game. Weve got a lot of work in that area. A lot of it is bobbles. Some of it is timing and spacing, so we have to continue to work on that and then just make simple plays, instead of trying to thread the needle, said Thibodeau. But I like the way we ran the floor and weve got to continue to do that. I thought our bench was terrific.

Rose concurred: The turnovers were from being aggressive, getting back in the rhythm. Me attacking tonight, I dont know if it felt new, but it made me feel good, just knowing that Im still capable of doing it. But Im just happy that we got the win.

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

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The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

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