CHICAGO – Six points, none of them of the style variety, separated the Chicago Bulls from the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night.
And so it will go, as Chicago begins its 2012-13 season the way a rocket pushes up, up and away through the atmosphere: In stages.
Stage One fired against Sacramento, all defense and grime and a hundred tiny advantages that add up over 48 minutes to something that warms Tom Thibodeau‘s heart. Stage Two won’t come for 50 or 60 more games –- that’s when Derrick Rose returns from the surgery and rehabilitation on his left knee and the Bulls find out if they’re really going to blast off this season or not.
Stage Three? That would be the playoffs. But that’s getting way, way out in front of things, with November just arriving.
The opener for both teams at United Center Wednesday was a sober experience for fans in the sellout crowd. There were few YouTube highlights –- a cut-and-dunk by Luol Deng, a quick putback by Carlos Boozer as he got pushed to the floor for a 3-point play and a couple of hustle tip-ins by Joakim Noah were about it –- because Rose provides most of those in this building.
Instead, it was a night of closing out on shooters (Sacramento hit 40.5 percent), forcing and pouncing on turnovers (21 worth 25 Chicago points), hitting free throws (25 of 33) and generally playing harder.
You know Thibodeau will be smiling, though. No coach in his right mind would rather work without Rose than with him, but Thibodeau is something of a mudder. He had to improvise, adapt and overcome plenty last season through injuries to Rose and others. This is the way the Bulls are going to look because this is the way they’re going to play, most likely until sometime after the All-Star break. Maybe longer.
“Most games are going to be like this,” Thibodeau said after the game. You want entertainment, call a clown. You want to win, the Bulls coach is your guy.
“We have to find different ways to win. We’re not going to change our style of play. That has to be consistent. It’s got to start with our defense and our rebounding, taking care of the ball, playing inside out … ”
You get the idea. Chicago got a monster game from Noah, who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, played 40 minutes and pestered Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins into several of his seven turnovers. Boozer got touches as the hub of the Bulls’ attack and had 18 points and eight boards. Rip Hamilton looked healthy and active with 19 points.
“Like I keep telling people, it’s not going to be one guy,” Boozer said. “It’s not going to be me, it’s not going to be Rip. We all have the responsibility to step up without Derrick. That’s a tough void in our lineup, bro. Every game is gonna be a grind-out game.”
In other words, there will be many nights this season when Chicago sports fans show up to see the Bulls, only to have a Bears or Blackhawks game break out.