SACRAMENTO—By the score alone, it wasn’t quite as bad as last season’s 121-79 stinker, but for the second consecutive campaign, the Bulls (23-24) were thoroughly embarrassed by the Kings (16-32), this time losing, 99-70, Monday night at Sleep Train Arena in a physical game that featured All-Star center Joakim Noah’s colorful ejection, video of which immediately went viral.
Fittingly, Carlos Boozer (eight points on 4-for-15 shooting, nine rebounds), the topic du jour heading into the contest, started the game’s scoring with a jumper on the opening possession.
But the matchup to watch was at center, featuring Noah and Kings counterpart DeMarcus Cousins (25 points, 16 rebounds, four assists), widely regarded as a Western Conference All-Star snub as one of the league’s few players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Cousins got his offensive game going in the first period, particularly in Noah’s absence, helping Sacramento acquire an early cushion as the Bulls struggled to score.
[RELATED: Noah contrite about ejection, actions toward officials]
The Kings, who were also led by diminutive floor general Isaiah Thomas (19 points), gradually built a double-digit lead against their errant-shooting guests, who were doubled up at the end of the opening quarter, 24-12, after a buzzer-beater three-pointer by Sacramento reserve Quincy Acy.
Jimmy Butler (17 points) and Taj Gibson (11 points) sparked the Bulls early in the next frame, aiding the Bulls in their quest to trim the deficit. It wasn’t pretty, but after some frenetic, disorganized play on both ends of the floor, the Bulls managed to mount a 10-2 run at the outset of the frame, making it a much more manageable affair, courtesy of their defense getting much stingier.
By approximately the midway point of the second quarter, the visitors knotted up the contest at 28 apiece, but perhaps that was the wake-up call the Kings needed, as Sacramento finished the first half in strong fashion, putting the Bulls in a 42-33 hole at the intermission, following Thomas’ spinning layup with 0.1 seconds remaining in the period.
After the break, the Kings extended their advantage, reeling off the first seven points of the third quarter, leading to a frustrated Noah picking up a technical foul for protesting a non-call in the increasingly physical affair. Cousins, known for his battles with officials, was assessed a technical of his own shortly afterwards, but a bad situation would get worse for the Bulls after Noah was hit with a second technical and was therefore ejected, delivering some choice words for each referee as he was escorted off the floor.
[WATCH: Noah ejected, goes on expletive-laced rant on refs]
Cousins excelled in Noah’s absence and Sacramento’s lead again ballooned, causing the Bulls to face a 71-57 deficit heading into the final stanza, with even seldom-used Kings fan favorite Jimmer Fredette getting into the act.
Things didn’t get any easier for the off-target Bulls at the outset of the fourth quarter, as they were still inept offensively and on the other end of the court, seemingly every play went the Kings’ way, from foul calls to loose balls.
Boozer, after voicing his opinion on playing in the final period earlier in the day, got his wish, though he was hampered by severe foul trouble while battling with Cousins in Noah’s stead. Sacramento’s onslaught continued and the margin of separation kept growing, mirroring last season’s horrific effort in the same building.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau sent in rookie power forward Erik Murphy—he would replace small forward Mike Dunleavy Jr., meaning Boozer stayed in the game for the time being; newcomer Toko Shengeila subbed for him shortly thereafter—and when the likes of Derrick Williams tried and failed to pull off dunk-contest style maneuvers, it signaled that things had gotten woefully out of control.