CHICAGO — Plenty of things did not look good on the stat sheet, but the Sacramento Kings were able to stay with the Chicago Bulls in a physical contest on Saturday night at the United Center by building a big edge in rebounds.
Eventually, it was not enough. Chicago center Joakim Noah piled up 23 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots, leading the Bulls to a tough 94-87 victory over Sacramento.
Forward Taj Gibson added 19 points and nine rebounds, and forward Mike Dunleavy scored 16 points and guard D.J. Augustin had 12 for Chicago.
“They’re tough. They are physical, tough down low,” Noah said. “Overall, I’m just happy we won because I think a lot of things didn’t go our way tonight. We just found a way and sometimes you’ve got to do that.”
Guard Isaiah Thomas led the Kings with 26 points. Center DeMarcus Cousins added 25 points and 14 rebounds, and forward Rudy Gay scored 13. Sacramento built a 55-40 advantage in rebounds and 20-10 in second-chance points.
The Bulls (37-29) won 13 of their last 17 games and own 25 victories since Jan. 1, tops in the Eastern Conference.
Chicago hosted Miami, San Antonio and Houston in the past week, with Oklahoma City playing at the United Center on Monday. So Sacramento, with one of the worst records in the Western Conference, was an opponent the Bulls did not want to overlook. Chicago lost 99-70 at Sacramento on Feb. 3.
Based on the stat sheet, plenty of things did not go well for the Kings. They shot 36.5 percent from the field, made just 2 of 14 from 3-point range and had 12 assists compared with 18 turnovers.
“The turnovers were disappointing,” Sacramento coach Mike Malone said. “This is a team that does not score a lot of transition points and they got 25 fast-break points tonight. That was not part of our game plan.”
Still, the Kings battled all night. Sacramento took a 65-64 lead early in the fourth quarter on a lay-in by forward Quincy Acy. From there, the score was tied four times before the Bulls took the lead for good at 75-72 on a 3-pointer by Dunleavy with 6:15 remaining.
About a minute later, Noah picked up a loose ball on the Sacramento end and went all the way for a lay-in and foul. He could not complete the three-point play but put Chicago ahead 79-74 with 5:10 left.
A couple of nice passes by Noah allowed the Bulls to pull away briefly. First, he threw a lob to guard Jimmy Butler for a short bank shot. Then when the Kings were slow getting back after a rebound went out of bounds, Noah heaved a length-of-the-court pass to Gibson for a layup and three-point play. That gave Chicago its biggest lead of the night at 86-78 with 2:02 remaining.
The Kings (23-43) did not go away. A Cousins bank shot, Thomas 3-pointer and Cousins drive kept Sacramento within 88-85 with 1:01 on the clock.
“Tonight, we needed all five on the boards,” Gibson said. “DeMarcus is a handful, Reggie is a handful. Any kind of chippy thing you can do in a rough game like that with a physical team like that, it’s going to go a long ways.”
Gibson buried a corner jumper off a drive and dish from Noah to make it 90-85 with 42.2 seconds left. Thomas answered with a jumper before Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich hit one from the line with 27.5 seconds remaining to keep the lead at four.
Kings guard Ben McLemore and Thomas missed jumpers on the next two trip, and two Dunleavy free throws ended the scoring.
“We had a chance,” Thomas said. “That’s all we want to do, especially against a great team like Chicago. A few things could have been different and we might have pulled it out.”
Noah and Gibson controlled the first half, combining to score 29 points and hit 11 of 14 shots from the field. But the Bulls could not move beyond a seven-point lead. Chicago was up 48-41 late in the second quarter, but a steal and dunk by McLemore just before the horn trimmed the deficit to five at halftime.
Sacramento forward Reggie Evans received a technical foul late in the first quarter.
The Kings wrap up a seven-game road trip on Sunday at Minnesota.
NOTES: Reggie Evans got the start at power forward for Sacramento on Saturday. Kings coach Mike Malone has been rotating players at that spot, using Evans against physical teams and Derrick Williams against athletic forwards. … Chicago F Jimmy Butler has been playing with sore ribs since taking a shot from Miami’s LeBron James last Sunday. It is not slowing him down too much: Butler helped limit Houston’s James Harden to eight points on Thursday. “It hurt like heck, too, right into the ribs,” Butler said of the hit from James. … The Kings are the only team in the league with three players averaging 20 points per game — C DeMarcus Cousins, F Rudy Gay and G Isaiah Thomas. Chicago’s top scorer is F Carlos Boozer at 14.2 ppg. … This was the fifth date of a six-game homestand for the Bulls. Sacramento is the only team of the six that has a losing record. The homestand ends Monday against Oklahoma City.
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