The Chicago Bulls entered Sleep Train Arena to face the Sacramento Kings with the same aesthetic they’ve had for the past two years, one which details expectations of success and wins regardless of what the circumstances may be, paired with the very harsh reality that they are an undermanned team — and may be for a majority of the season.
It’s a season that considers them one of the NBA’s favorites to win it all, despite injury and the unforgiving importance of one or two players’ well being, which has and will decide full months of basketball. The absence of Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose — a site Bulls fans have learned to revere in the worst possible sense of the word — left the team on its heals as an increasingly confident and consistent Sacramento Kings team took advantage of holes in what is a very talented roster. When healthy.
“If a guy is injured, he should sit. And if a guy’s hurting, he should play. It’s that simple,” Coach Tom Thibodeau said regarding the absence of Gasol and Rose.
The Bulls have been able to manage with players injured and unable to play, but the matchups created by gaps in Chicago’s talent were too perfectly inviting for Sacramento not to take full advantage of. Still, Joakim Noah is more than capable of making the paint his home defensively, a home which he will defend against the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and any other player willing to take him on at the rim.
The Kings managed to attack the paint, and most other areas of the court, with a series of plays based around setting Cousins in the post and allowing a double team to come. He invited it, as if to prove to the national TV audience that he is more than just a head-case who scores a lot of points, but doesn’t win games or bring positive regard to his teammates. In this case, his ability to overcome any defensive scheme made by Thibodeau. It was embodied when he made a cross-court pass from the low post to Ben McLemore for a wide open three, wich started a 30-point second quarter and put the Bulls on their backs for the rest of the game.
With Rose out as well, Darren Collison was able to have his most impressive performance of the season, one in which he orchestrated Mike Malone’s offense and created everything from three-point shots on the wing, to wide open lay-ins for his big men. He displayed his ability to get his teammates involved early and often, giving both Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks near-impossible assignments through the whole game.
“Collison in two games has had 23 assists and only one turnover,” said Malone after the win. “Darren did a great job of running his team tonight. I think that it starts with him, he’s our point guard, he’s our coach on the floor, and he did a really good job orchestrating the team.”
The combination of supreme floor spacing — an aspect of the game the Kings are notoriously poor in — and aggressive offensive pressure from Cousins in the paint broke the Bulls’ offense. Every player who checked in for the Kings — including Derrick Williams who had 10 big points off the bench — gave Chicago a new problem, a problem with virtually no end, one that had to be addressed with no promise of success.
The Kings managed to outplay one of the league’s premier rosters, one filled with top-tier players whose day-to-day presence will sway based on who feels good enough to play. The Bulls still remain an NBA-best team, but a loss in Sacramento brings up the possibility of new criticisms and concerns regarding the uncertain — and unpromised — success for the 2014-15 season.