"Wow! All I can say is, 'Wow!" Tyreke Evans said after dominating down the stretch and leading the Kings to a 102-98 victory Monday night. "We fought to the end. It was amazing."
Indeed, it was one of the most amazing comebacks in NBA history.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the biggest rally since Utah overcame a 36-point deficit to beat Denver on Nov. 27, 1996.
"I mean, what can you say? It's unheard of to do what just happened," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "I'm not even sure I believe it, but it sure was fun."
The Bulls were talking about a collapse, not a comeback.
"This one stings," Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We stopped being aggressive, got a little complacent there and they jumped on it. We're not good enough to take a minute off, never mind a half."
The Bulls led 79-44 with 8:50 left in the third quarter, and were still up 83-50 two minutes later before the Kings stole momentum and, eventually, the game.
After Sacramento finished the third with a 19-5 run to make it 88-69, Ime Udoka scored 15 of the Kings' first 22 points in the fourth quarter to cut it to 95-91 with 2:28 remaining.
Evans, the outstanding rookie guard from Memphis, then personally outscored the Bulls 9-3 the rest of the way.
He converted a three-point play and, after Chicago's Luol Deng made a free throw, scored on a drive and hit a foul shot to give the Kings their first lead since the opening minutes. Evans then hit a 22-footer at the shot-clock buzzer to put Sacramento up 99-96.
"I think we relaxed," said Deng, who scored 26 points. "We were making mistakes defensively. We were just not aggressive and that carries over to offense. It's frustrating."
As the sellout crowd booed the Bulls off the court, Kings owner Gavin Maloof celebrated.
"If they didn't know who Tyreke Evans was, they know him now," he said. "It was magical."
Evans followed Rose to Memphis, where each played only one year of college ball before turning pro. Rose was last season's Rookie of the Year and Evans -- one of just four NBA players averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists -- is a front-runner for the award this season.
"I just kept attacking and never gave up," Evans said.
The Bulls were almost perfect in the first quarter, shooting 71 percent, committing no turnovers, holding the Kings to 39 percent shooting and forcing seven giveaways. Chicago built a 67-43 lead by halftime and opened the second half with a 12-1 run that seemingly put the game away.
But as the Bulls gradually came unglued -- they were only 2 for 10 from the floor and committed nine turnovers in the fourth quarter -- Evans, Udoka and the Kings took control.
"This game was absolutely crazy," ex-Bull Andres Nocioni said. "I've played in many games with national teams and many games in the NBA and I've never seen anything like that. I don't know if we won the game or the Chicago Bulls lost the game."
The despondent Del Negro knew.
"It was a matter of us not being smart at either end," he said. "It's frustrating. It's difficult. But what are you going to do, put your head down and feel sorry for yourself? You've got to go play."
Rose finished with 24 points and seven assists. ... Nocioni received a nice ovation when introduced before the game. Acquired from Chicago last February, he was one of the Bulls' most popular players of the post-Michael Jordan years. "I'm fine with Sacramento," he said, "but I miss Chicago a lot." ... Bulls F Tyrus Thomas, who broke a bone in his left forearm on Nov. 6, returned to practice Sunday. Del Negro hopes Thomas will play Saturday against New Orleans. ... Deng has averaged 23 points while playing the last four games with a small fracture in his left (non-shooting) thumb.