CHICAGO (AP) – The Chicago Bulls insist they can be more than just a run-of-the-mill team without Derrick Rose. They’re off to a winning start.
Joakim Noah scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and the Bulls beat the Sacramento Kings 93-87 Wednesday in the season opener without their injured superstar.
Richard Hamilton added 19 points, while Carlos Boozer chipped in with 18 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s one game out of 82,” Noah said. “Good start. But we have a lot of basketball to be played.”
It was a winning night all around for Chicago, with Taj Gibson agreeing to a four-year, $38 million extension just before the deadline.
Gibson broke the news after emerging from a meeting with executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman following the game. The new deal kicks in after the season, and it locks in one of Chicago’s key players for the long term.
It was a surprising turn, considering he had said before the game that he was turning down the Bulls’ offer. That would have meant becoming a restricting free agent, with the Bulls holding the right to match any offer from another team.
Clearly, Gibson was thrilled to get it done.
His teammates were elated, too.
“I know how much he fights every night to represent the Bulls,” Noah said. “It’s the icing on the cake.”
Luol Deng said, “He definitely deserves it, and I’m happy to see it.”
The news about Gibson steered the spotlight from the game, itself, and what happened was promising even if it was a struggle for the Bulls. They have some work to do if they’re going to get by while Rose recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, but they’ll take this.
Chicago led by 14 after a 10-0 run in the third quarter and hung on in the fourth after the Kings closed within three several times.
A basket by Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans (21 points) cut it to 86-83 with 41.2 seconds left, but Deng hit 1 of 2 free throws.
Evans couldn’t get the ball in bounds, resulting in a five-second violation. That led to two free throws for Hamilton to make it 89-83 with 32.9 seconds left, and the Bulls hung on from there.
“That was my fault,” Evans said. “I was looking for a guy to get open and I should have just called a timeout. Bad play on my end.”
Along with the points and rebounds, Noah set a career high with five steals. He also hit 11 of 12 free throws and blocked three shots
Hamilton was relentless after being sidelined for much of last season by injuries, and Boozer was effective down the stretch scoring seven points in the fourth.
That included a neat three-point play off a miss by Noah in which he crashed to the court and then hit the free throw, making it 86-78 with 2:45 remaining.
The Kings, who are trying to make a jump after six straight losing seasons, got 15 points from Marcus Thornton and 14 from DeMarcus Cousins. But they also committed 21 turnovers – three more than Chicago.
“Unacceptable,” Thornton said. “I know it was our first game, but we can’t use that as an excuse. Twenty one turnovers against this team is too much. They’re too good on defense and turning them into transition points. Can’t give them those.”
This time last year, the Bulls were eyeing a championship run. Now, with Rose sidelined, there’s a different vibe around Chicago.
The mood changed when Rose crashed to the court late in the Bulls’ playoff-opening win over Philadelphia, sending the Bulls spiraling toward a first-round exit and casting a huge cloud over a team that many saw as the biggest threat to Miami in the Eastern Conference.
To many, they’re treading water until Rose returns. The Bulls, of course, don’t see it that way.
They insist they’re going to fight and claw the way they always have, and that’s what they did in this game.
“We’re not going to change our style of play,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That has to be consistent. It has to start with our defense and rebounding, taking care of the ball, playing inside-out and sharing the ball.”
Notes: The Bulls appointed Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen senior adviser to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf. Pippen has been serving as a team ambassador. In a statement issued Wednesday, Reinsdorf said the new title will “better reflect his role with the Bulls.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.