Maybe Taj Gibson is a long-term piece to some future Bulls championship puzzle.
But while the Bulls’ last-minute agreement with Gibson on a contract extension Wednesday was a major storyline, there also was a reminder that incumbent power forward Carlos Boozer does many things Gibson can’t.
Boozer scored 18 points and made a variety of important plays down the stretch as the Bulls held off the scrappy Sacramento Kings 93-87 in the season opener at the United Center.
Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 23 points, to go with 10 rebounds and a career-high 5 steals. Rip Hamilton added 19 points.
“It wasn’t any one player,” Boozer said. “If it was anybody, it was Jo. He played phenomenal from start to finish. Rip did a great job. We all had our moments.
“I keep telling people, it’s not going to be one guy. It’s going to be collective. It’s going to be all of us. That’s what it’s going to take to win in this league. If we do it as a group, we’ll have a chance every night.”
While talking up the team aspect of Wednesday’s victory, Boozer showed evidence of being a quality teammate and person.
Before speaking to reporters, he called home to check on the status of trick-or-treating in Miami and showed reporters a cellphone photo of his three kids in costume.
Literally seconds later, Gibson walked out and made the surprising announcement that he had agreed to a contract extension roughly 30 minutes before the deadline.
Boozer let out a cheer and was the first teammate to offer a fist bump.
Out on the court, the Kings refused to go quietly and closed within 79-76 with 5:54 remaining. Boozer responded by hitting one of his patented high-arcing baseline jumpers to stretch the lead to 5.
Over the next few minutes, Boozer fired a pass to a cutting Luol Deng for a dunk, grabbed an offensive rebound and turned it into a 3-point play, then stole a bad pass by center DeMarcus Cousins.
“I think we have to continue to search him out,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Boozer. “There are so many good things that happen for us when we throw the ball into him.”
Guard Tyreke Evans led the Kings with 21 points, while Marcus Thornton contributed 15 points off the bench and Cousins scored 14.
“I think most games are going to be like this,” Thibodeau said. “You have to be able to grind them out, find different ways to win.”
Thibodeau used some unusual lineup combinations during the second half, which were never seen in preseason.
Marco Belinelli went to the bench when he didn’t contest a 3-point shot by Thornton, and the Bulls played Jimmy Butler and Deng together.
Thibodeau later used an extra small lineup, with Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt and Gibson at center.
The Bulls missed a chance to put the game away by failing to score on a long possession, kept alive twice by Deng offensive rebounds.
Evans hit a runner to make it 86-83 with 41.2 seconds left. But the Bulls finished it off at the foul line, with Noah going a perfect 4-for-4 in the final 25 seconds.
“I’ll take it,” Thibodeau said of Noah’s performance. “He played very well in preseason. He’s put a lot of work in, and I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. I thought his defense was good. His energy was good. He just does so many different things.”
So did the Bulls, not all of them good. But it’s all about the wins while Derrick Rose recovers from knee surgery. Style points don’t matter.
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