CHICAGO - With pregame attention focused on whether or not Chicago would sign Taj Gibson to a contract extension before Wednesday's deadline, Carlos Boozer reminded everyone that the Bulls have a quality power forward already under contract.
Boozer finished with 18 points and made several key plays down the stretch as the Bulls held off Sacramento 93-87 in the season opener for both teams at the United Center.
Center Joakim Noah led Chicago with 23 points to go with 10 rebounds. Guard Richard Hamilton added 19 points.
Guard Tyreke Evans led the Kings with 21 points, while Marcus Thornton contributed 15 points off the bench and center DeMarcus Cousins scored 14.
After the Kings closed within 79-76 with 5:54 remaining, Boozer made several key plays for the home team. First, he hit one of his patented high-arcing baseline jumpers to stretch the lead to five.
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 Cousins.
Evans hit a runner to bring Sacramento within 86-83 with 41.2 seconds left.
After Deng hit one of two free throws, Evans couldn't get the ball inbounds and the Kings were whistled for a five-second violation, their 21st turnover of the night.
The Bulls started to take control early in the third quarter, using a 10-0 run to build a 56-42 lead on Hamilton's jumper. But Sacramento continued to be scrappy, closing within 69-63 by the end of the quarter on Jason Thompson's follow slam.
The Kings were running full-speed at the start of the contest, pushing the tempo consistently. Guard Tyreke Evans had the hot hand early, hitting all five of his shots on the way to 13 points in the first half.
The Bulls got a lift late in the first quarter when newcomer Marco Belinelli, who shot 29.4 percent in preseason, knocked down his first three-point attempt of the regular season. The Bulls led for most of the first half, but never by more than six points. They settled for a 44-40 edge at intermission.
The Bulls produced the NBA's best regular-season record the last two seasons, but expectations are low this year with guard Derrick Rose recovering from knee surgery. Before the game, coach Tom Thibodeau brushed aside preseason forecasts.
"I don't get caught up in that at all," he said. "Whether somebody's picking us to be the top seed or the bottom seed, it doesn't matter. I don't want us to get wrapped up in any of that stuff, because it's meaningless."
NOTES: When Wednesday's game began, the Bulls had not reached agreement on a contract extension with forward Taj Gibson. If a deal was not reached by 11 p.m. Central time, Gibson will become a restricted free agent next summer. While Gibson expressed doubt before the game a deal will get done, Bulls general manager Gar Forman suggested there could be more talks while the game was underway. ... Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans, the NBA's rookie of the year in 2010, was in the same boat, unlikely to sign an extension by the evening deadline. ... The Bulls named Scottie Pippen senior advisor to team president and COO Michael Reinsdorf on Wednesday. There was no mention of any job duties for the Bulls legend, who was previously known as a team ambassador.