In many ways, the Bulls' 108-98 victory over the Sacramento Kings at Power Balance Pavilion on Thursday night proved to coach Tom Thibodeau's players that they can return to the level and style of play that led them to a 62-20 record during the 2010-11 season.
The Bulls had five players in double figures and scored 33 fast-break points against the Kings. But most importantly, the fact that point guard Derrick Rose -- who repeatedly said during the two days in between games that he would start to be in attack mode early in contests -- displayed aggressiveness from start to finish was a welcome sight for his teammates, coaches and fans. The reigning NBA MVP poured in 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting vs. a Kings backcourt that featured Marcus Thornton, former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and rookie sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette.
"I told you from the beginning that [I'll] be more aggressive attacking the hole," Rose told reporters after the Bulls improved to 2-1 in the compressed 66-game regular season. "They're giving me open shots and I'm going to take them."
"Like me attacking tonight, all of it felt new. But it made me feel good, just knowing that I'm still capable of doing it. But I'm just happy that we got the win."
Rose was able to find a good balance between scoring and distributing the ball to his teammates, dishing out eight assists for the second consecutive game. However, he turned the ball over a season-high six times. Rose has 21 assists and 14 turnovers through three games, but is confident that his passing numbers will continue to rise as the season wears on, thanks largely to his teammates.
"Guys are really shooting the ball," he said. "My assists are going to be very high this year, I think. We just got to keep winning -- that's the biggest thing right now."
If the Bulls are going to do just that, they better hope Rose will be able to stay on the court. Thibodeau had to remove the 6-foot-3 Rose earlier than he had expected in the third and fourth quarters due to the All-Star's foul trouble. Fortunately for the Bulls, C.J. Watson probably had his second-best all-around performance as a Bull -- behind the 33 points he scored against the Denver Nuggets last November -- dropping eight points, nine assists and five rebounds.
"I try, man," Rose said with a laugh of his conversations with the officials. "I don't know what it is, man. This year, even in preseason. You remember last year, a couple years [ago], I could go a whole game with one foul. [In] preseason, they were giving me fouls [when] I wasn't even near the play. But that's something I just got to get through and that's something I just can't worry about."
Hamilton, Boozer impress: After spending the final 16 minutes and 31 seconds on the bench in Monday's 99-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors, both Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer were able to have bounce-back outings in Sacramento.
Hamilton posted 16 points, four rebounds and two steals against the aforementioned strong group of Kings guards, which included former Bull John Salmons. Although the Bulls might have liked to see better efficiency from Hamilton, who shot 7-for-15 from the field, the veteran shooting guard has become more comfortable with the Bulls' schemes on both ends of the court as he gains experience with his teammates during games and practices.
"I'm getting better every game," Hamilton told the assembled media afterwards. "I'm still a long ways away. It’s still early in the season. I just try to get better each and every day."
Following the Bulls' first two contests, plenty of fans believed Hamilton played a role in stagnating the team's offense. But reminiscent to the Bulls' preseason finale, the 6-foot-7 Hamilton provided Rose with an option on the fastbreak against the young Kings. He was also able to create his own shot off one or two dribbles.
"I thought Rip really did a great job," Thibodeau said. "I thought defensively he competed hard, and that’s what I’m looking for. And then his offense just came off of that. So that was a good sign."
Meanwhile, Boozer put up 16 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 8-of-16 from the field. With Rose on the sideline due to four fouls and the Bulls' lead cut to 72-71 with five minutes left in the third quarter, Boozer knocked down three crucial jumpers as the team closed on an 11-2 run to take an 85-75 lead heading into the fourth quarter. In addition, the much-maligned power forward had one block and won a jump ball that he had forced after stuffing Tyreke Evans' layup attempt.
The Bulls understand how much Boozer means to their success and that he must build on Thursday's effort.
"Booz played good," Rose said. "Being aggressive, I think, being more efficient knowing what he's going to do when he catches the ball. Instead of jabbing, [he] just took his time. Get it and go. If you don't have it, pass it back out. Pick-and-roll. He did good tonight."
Added Thibodeau: "Carlos stepped up big. I loved the way Carlos rebounded the ball; I thought that triggered our break. And then he got into a rhythm offensively right there at the end of the third, so that’s a good sign for us."
Noah spends more time on the bench: Joakim Noah has yet to play 30 minutes during a game this season. He has had to deal with foul trouble in two games and was benched in the fourth quarter on Monday.
Noah had nine points and four rebounds in 24 foul-plagued minutes against the Kings and had his struggles defending Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds. The two players did their best to irritate each other throughout the game. Early in the fourth quarter, Cousins was called for a loose ball foul on Noah but disagreed with it and chuckled as he walked to the other end. Six seconds later, he baited Noah into an offensive foul that sent the Bulls center to the bench. Bulls announcer Stacey King called Cousins' tumble "a flop."
Through three games, the silver lining for Bulls fans to take is that Noah has looked completely healthy and in shape and has made 2-of-5 mid-range jumpers, showing he isn't afraid, at the very least, to shoot the 12- to 15-footer.
“Jo had some foul trouble," Thibodeau said. "... I thought our starters played with a lot more energy. And I thought they competed on the defensive end and that’s what really got them going. So, I think when we do that, we have the chance to be a good team."