Joakim Noah wasn’t around for the end of the Bulls’ 27-point loss in Sacramento on Feb. 3. Saturday night he was there, and he finished off the Kings in a 94-87 win.
Noah finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, while Taj Gibson added 19 more and a few huge rebounds down the stretch in the win.
The Kings were able to hang with the hosts in the first quarter thanks to a balanced scoring attack. Their starters scored all 23 points in the stanza, with no one scoring more than six (DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay). They shot 45 percent while allowing zero second-chance points and offensive rebounds to a Bulls offense that shot just 39 percent from the field.
Noah kept the Bulls close in the first quarter by scoring 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. His teammates managed to go just 4-for-17 in the stanza, with Kirk Hinrich providing five points of his own — all other Bulls shot 2-for-13.
Late in the quarter, Jimmy Butler made a fantastic hustle play, chasing down Cousins, who had a free path to the basket after Mike Dunleavy’s errant pass rolled into the backcourt. Butler deflected Cousins’ pass intended for Isaiah Thomas, and the Kings wound up not scoring on the possession. Butler went 0-for-3 and committed two fouls in the quarter, but that specific play was indicative of the Bulls’ play.
In the second quarter it was Taj Gibson’s time to shine. Twice in three possessions he blocked Jason Thompson on attempts that would have otherwise been easy baskets. Gibson also got it done on the offensive end, matching Noah’s 12 points in the first quarter on 4 of 5 shooting to pace the Bulls.
The Kings trailed by as many as seven in the second quarter but, despite assisting on four of 16 made field goals, were able to keep the deficit close to more stout work on the glass; at halftime the Bulls had just two offensive rebounds on 24 misses.
The final eight minutes of the quarter were played within four points, with McLemore picking DJ Augustin’s pocket and racing to the basket with time winding down for a dunk that cut the Kings’ deficit to five, 48-43.
Cousins, who was just 3-for-9 in a frustrating first half, knocked down his first three shots out of intermission – the last of which was a three-point play – that knotted the score at 50 just two minutes into the third quarter.
A Thomas 3-pointer off a feed from Cousins gave the Kings their first lead, 55-53, since early in the second period.
But that Thomas 3 seemed to jolt the Bulls, who reeled off 11 of the next 13 points to take a seven point lead, 64-57, their biggest of the night. Four different Bulls scored buckets in the sequence, including a 3-pointer from DJ Augustin, who saw extended minutes in the quarter as Kirk Hinrich sat with foul trouble.
But an ugly end to the quarter saw the Kings score six straight on free throws to pull within one, 64-63, heading into the fourth quarter. Those free throws came from Cousins (two) and Thomas (four), who scored 18 of the Kings’ 20 points in the quarter.
Thomas started the fourth with an alley-oop to Quincy Acy, who threw down a dunk to give the Kings the lead back, 65-64. That 8-0 run was cut off by a Hinrich jumper, while the two teams played within three points of each other until midway through the fourth quarter. Mike Dunleavy scored five straight by himself off a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to give the Bulls a 75-72 lead with 5:56 remaining.
It appeared Noah had closed the door on the Kings with four more points on consecutive possessions to extend the lead to 79-74. Then he found Butler on an alley-oop, which the Bulls’ shooting guard finished with a layup. Then, following a Cousins travel, Noah threw a full-court pass to Gibson, who had beaten the defense for another layup.
But the Kings wouldn’t go away easily, as Thomas drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead back to three, 86-83. Gibson, who finished with five offensive rebounds, had his largest of the night off a Hinrich missed 3-pointer. Gibson was fouled after the board and made two free throws to push the lead back to five, 88-83.
After a Cousins layup out of a timeout, Noah drove right and found Gibson on the left baseline for a jump shot to extend the lead to 90-85 with 42.2 seconds left.