E’Twaun Moore has got to be some kind of super hero, at least the way he played Wednesday in the Bulls 107-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
First, there was ‘Twaun to the rescue with Jimmy Butler missing his first game of the season with a sore knee, Moore scoring 13 of his career high 24 points in the first quarter to carry the running Bulls to a 34-25 lead that they mostly carried throughout the game.
He’s the new Vindicator, the guy so often overlooked who always has to prove he belongs.
“E’Twaun was unbelievable,” enthused Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “We found out about an hour and half before the game Jimmy wasn’t going to be able to go and somebody had to step up and fill his shoes. E’Twaun carried a lot of that load. E’twaun is a rock solid kid. You are comfortable when he is on the floor whether making shots or not because does a lot of things. Even late when they were denying Derrick (Rose) the ball, I thought E’Twaun made some big plays for us down the stretch.”
Moore did make a shot fake with 1:45 left and delivered the ball to Taj Gibson for a 103-96 lead. The fairly dysfunctional Kings for some curious reason then fouled Rose intentionally with 1:32 left and he made both free throws for a 105-98 Bulls lead.
But then like all super heroes, they are not perfect.
OK, other than Superman, aka Michael Jordan.
Moore then looked like ‘Twaun of Broken Hearts fouling Marco Belinelli on a three-point make, though Belinelli missed the free throw with 1:23 left. Moore then missed later on a drive with 27.8 seconds left, giving the Kings yet another chance.
But Cousins backed in Tony Snell, who did a remarkably good job not fouling. Cousins missed, got the rebound, and then inexplicably missed again. Kirk Hinrich in for defense tipped the rebound to Moore, who was fouled. And Moore with 10.4 seconds left and a chance to basically end the game with the Bulls ahead 105-102 missed both free throws. So the Kings had still another chance. But “Boogie Bumbler” Cousins was fouled and missed the first free throw. He then purposely missed the next. But it was so bad it missed the rim, giving the Bulls the ball. Pau Gasol made two free throws to provide for the happy ending.
“I knew our team needed a spark and it was an important game for us,” said Moore, who also had five rebounds, four assists and was four of five on threes. “That’s why I tried to come out with a lot of energy and just try to provide that spark for us. I knew it was important to start the game off well. That’s what gets us going and gets us heading in the right direction and we did that and it helped out a lot. I just tried to be aggressive and take open shots and be creative and it worked for us. Just tried to pick spots and pick up for us.”
It doesn’t sound like much, but Moore often isn’t much more than Mute Man, the guy who lets his actions speak for him.
Moore is as likeable and humble a man as the Bulls have, quiet, friendly and with a demeanor that belies the fierce intensity of a competitor who seethes internally over a lifetime of slights from not being someone with the ‘Hey look at me” neon, flashing sandwich board sign on himself.
But Moore’s presence in the starting lineup on this road trip, even with the 2-2 results, has been a plus for the Bulls. And especially Wednesday as the team had 26 assists, moved the ball quickly into offense for easy baskets for a change, got more open threes thanks to that ball movement and shot 11 of 21 and looked like the team they say they want to be.
“Something to build on,” said Hoiberg hopefully. “It was fun basketball. I talked to the guys about that. The ball was swinging side to side, we were getting it in the right guys’ hands, shifted the defense and good things happened and hopefully we’ll carry this over the rest of the season.”
We’ve seen enough of this Bulls team to know that’s not going to happen. But it also continues to show it’s there, especially with Rose pushing the ball out of the backcourt as he had 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds, though seven turnovers.
“Derrick’s thrust, I thought, was really good,” said Hoiberg. ”A lot of the success we had on the offensive end was because of Derrick tonight.”
And with Doug McDermott spotting up for threes, and even finishing a running dunk on a smart pass from Taj Gibson. McDermott had 11 points off the bench while Gibson played a terrific defensive game with 12 points and eight rebounds.
His man, Cousins, got 30 points and 11 rebounds with mostly jump shots and one blazing dunk shot that made it 103-98 with 1:32 left. Cousins is a remarkably skilled player, a seven footer with an amazingly soft shooting touch, but an absolute goofball who continually keeps the Kings from winning these sorts of games.
Perhaps predictably he ran at the Bulls assistant coaches, mostly little Randy Brown, a former Kings player, after the game to complain or something. Gasol tried to step in and Rose was trying to stifle a laugh. I’m not sure what Brown was ribbing Cousins about, which I assume it was, because Cousins did so many crazy things in the game it would be tough to choose.
Unquestionably, Cousins brought the Kings back into the game with his shooting early after the Bulls took a 22-10 lead. Why the tallest and biggest and most ferocious guy on the team is taking the most long jump shots is another issue. It seems clear coach George Karl cannot address it as I’ve watched Karl coach for three decades and have never seen him so quiet and uninvolved, certainly verbally, in the game.
Kings players afterward all lamented a series of slow starts to games, which the Bulls often do as well, though Cousins basically guarding no one had something to do with that. Then you have to love—at least if you are the opponent—so many of Cousins’ brain dead decisions late in games. There’s no doubt he wants to win the game and cares. But he remains completely uncoached. Can anyone coach him? Who knows?
So Moore flies into Belinelli with 1:23 left in his own head scratching defense. A comfortable seven-point Bulls lead suddenly looks like three. Former Bull Belinelli, who had 18 points, missed the free throw, however.
The Kings got the ball back and Cousins fired up a long three the Bulls could only breathe a sigh of relief from. Cousins missed with 1:07 with the crowd up and then back down.
Rose got chased down from behind and lost the ball, his seventh turnover amidst all the positives.
“I played, I think, two quarters straight like full quarters,” said Rose, who was up to almost 36 minutes with Butler out. “Stating the positives, but the turnovers were devastating and that hurt us. I’m going to learn from my mistakes and try to protect the ball a little bit more.”
Gasol had an excellent game with 16 points and 13 rebounds, though he had six turnovers. Sometimes when you push the ball you have to expect more mistakes. After all, Magic Johnson and John Stockton often led the league in turnovers. But the easier points (19 Bulls fast break points) make up for it, especially for a team that often struggles for the vital easy points.
Anyway, the Kings were about to steal one they trailed basically all game.
After the Rose turnover with 50.9 seconds and the Bulls ahead 105-101, Cousins made one of two free throws. Then seemingly trying to make up for his bad foul, Moore isolated and missed with 27.8 seconds left. Cousins then powered in, getting Snell on a switch. But Snell help position and Cousins threw the ball over the rim, retrieved it and again threw it awry. Then came the Moore double free throw miss and Cousins’ when his second missed the rim.
“It feels great to get that one, to find a way,” said a relieved Hoiberg.
“When you win it takes care of a lot of things,” said Rose. “Sleep more comfortable, wake up easily, go through shootaround, the anxiety not so much before the game, wanting it to start because you want to get that next win so bad, Tonight it’s going to be a peaceful night. We’re just trying to get wins.”
And so continues this turvy season with the topsy first half finished and the Bulls trying to get to that All-Star break with a few more wins and get some players back.
Butler said he was just being cautious with some knee pain. He said he didn’t believe it was serious as it ended his hopes of playing all 82 games. Which wasn’t a great idea, anyway, given he leads the league in minutes played, and they are hard minutes as the team’s top defender. Though gallant, it seemed an unnecessary goal.
“I have to think big picture,” said Butler. “Got to do what’s right for your body. I have to be smart; just being cautious. I think I’ll be fine.”
The Bulls could get Mike Dunleavy back Friday in Denver, though Nikola Mirotic seems like he’ll be out longer as his appendix surgery required an additional procedure. It likely will take him awhile to regain strength as appendix surgery will weaken you for weeks.
So Moore stepping in as he has was fortuitous.
“E has a huge opportunity in front of him with coach putting him out there,” said Rose. “Jimmy was out and I told him before the game just be aggressive, look for your shots a little bit more and he did exactly that.”
Moore had been starting for Snell the previous three games and even when Dunleavy returns it seems to make sense to keep Moore starting as he has been good enough on defense. Moore did an excellent job Wednesday on the much taller Rudy Gay while his speed and passing enables the Bulls to play faster.
“We were moving the ball, playing with a lot of pace, playing very uptempo,” said Moore. “Getting up and down and it helped our team being in a good flow.”
Moore isn’t a great shooter, about 35 percent in his career on threes. But he’s a threat and will have streaks, like he did to start the game with the Bulls first seven points and 13 of their first 18. That came with Rose flying down the court and throwing ahead, Rose with six first half assists and the valuable Gasol with eight points, his shooting keeping the Kings away from the basket.
Snell went back to starting small forward with Butler out and Moore in the backcourt, and Snell this time was more active and his late defensive stance against Cousins was crucial. Bobby Portis had some good work inside with second shots and McDermott finally got shots and showed that stroke that tears at your heart for why he doesn’t get more shots.
Gasol, who with Joakim Noah out for the season seems as irreplaceable as anyone on the roster, showed some deft moves blowing by Cousins on a drive when Cousins finally came out and then finishing his own miss before Cousins could recover. That helped the Bulls to a 57-47 lead late in the second quarter before the Kings finished strong to get within 60-57 at halftime.
But it was a different Bulls team, active, moving, Rose throwing half court passes ahead with Gibson, Snell and McDermott running lanes. Rose to Gasol to Gibson got a score that way early in the third quarter and then Rose ahead to Gibson got another as the Bulls inched away 69-64.
“Played from a lead the entire game and I think that changed the way we played,” said Rose.
There was an oddly, ugly sequence in the third quarter when the teams combined to make turnovers in seven consecutive possession in what was really not auditions for the Starbucks bakery.
Moore broke that with a jumper followed by a Rose full court dash for a score and Moore’s six of the Bulls last 10 points of the third quarter for his career high (previous 19) and 80-75 Bulls lead after three quarters.
McDermott showed that Stephen Curry range with a long three on top after the Kings again narrowed, to 83-80 early in the fourth quarter. And then maybe it was McDermott of all guys—what, they didn’t have him in the dunk contest!—taking a Gibson pass after Gibson rebounded a miss and dunking on a running start down the lane. That helped the Bulls take a 93-83 lead with 6:51 left. Rose with six of the Bulls next eight point held off the Cousins show—Bad Boogie and Good Boogie and Basically Nothing But Boogie; hey someone wake George!—and then the Bulls finally could take a breath and add a victory with a very unsettling finish.
And a big assist—and several baskets—from Kid Flash. On this night, ‘Twaun, the Rambo of the Region.