Bulls 91, Thunder 97
The Bulls stared a 2-2 Harden-less Thunder team looking to avoid a sub-.500 record. Everything in the early stages went according to the ironclad plan detailed in the game preview; the Thunder were cold from outside, missing long 2 after long 2, and that allowed the Bulls to get out in transition. Partially on the back of a hot start from Rip Hamilton, the Bulls jumped out to a 12-4 lead while the Thunder shot 2/12 from the field.
Things began to fall apart a bit as the first quarter ended and the second began. Kirk Hinrich did his best Mobb Deep impression, looking like quite the Shook One after a crossover from Westbrook led to an easy layup. Ibaka hit a corner three, which is a pretty scary concept if he can hit that with even semi-regularity. The Bulls got beat on their second backdoor cut of the opening quarter, this time with Collison hitting Durant for the dunk.
A turnover on the Bulls' final possession of the quarter lead to a Durant dunk in the open floor with 0.7 seconds left. The two teams entered the second tied at 24.
Things continued to trend in the negative direction in the early stages of the second. After the Bulls had started 10/15 from the field, they then rattled off a stretch of 1/8. The Bulls were also somewhat careless with the ball, turning it over multiple times in the opening minutes of the period. Kevin Martin also continued to show the scoring prowess he has shown in the first four games of his Thunder career, completing an and 1 opportunity after a nice drive past Jimmy Butler for a nice 14-footer.
The Bulls found themselves down 26-33 after having been up by eight earlier in the game. Fortunately, the Bulls picked it up in the second half of the second quarter by, you guessed it, converting in transition and on second chance opportunities. Kirk Hinrich continues to be, to my surprise at least, kind of a magician on the break, knowing exactly when to hit guys on the wings or in the lane. He even hit a three after Boozer sneakily picked up an offensive board that made its way to the 3-point line before the nearby Thunder player could grab it. At that point, it was 40 all and the Bulls were back in business.
Hinrich then delivered a beautiful pass to a charging Luol Deng on the break, who maneuvered his way in the air to finish and convert an and 1 opportunity at the line.
It was a sloppy quarter at times for the Bulls, and not a particularly good one for Boozer, who turned it over at least once and took a bad shot on the last possession. Unfortunately, the Thunder rattled off a 6-0 run to end the half, taking a 48-47 lead into the intermission.
- Durant: 5/9, 10 points
- Westbrook: 2/10, 8 assists (!), 4 points
- Serge Ibaka: 6/11, 15 points
- Team: 50% from the field, 10 turnovers, 5 offensive boards
- Boozer: 2/8, 7 points, 2 turnovers
- Deng: 6/11, 13 points
- Hamilton: 3/5, 8 points, 3 turnovers
- Team: 44% from the field, 10 turnovers, 8 offensive boards
Russell Westbrook took Hinrich on again at the top of the key, completing a spectacular play in the lane for an and 1 opportunity to bring the Thunder within one.
Otherwise, it was once again a sloppy quarter for both teams. The Bulls coughed it up seven times, the Thunder six times in this quarter alone. However, paced by 7 points from Hinrich and 8 from Hamilton, the Bulls entered the fourth with a 72-66 lead off of an 11-5 run.
The Bulls jumped out to a 5-point lead but an 7-0 run coming from the Thunder put the Bulls down 73-75. That's when it became the Luol Deng Show. After a trey, and and 1 off of a 16-footer and a layup, the Bulls were within two with five and a half minutes to go.
With the score then at 85 all, Deng and Hinrich missed two very good looks from downtown on back-to-back possessions, which, as a fan, was a "what could have been" pair of moments.
Westbrook slashed through the lane and finished as the game approached the 2-minute mark. The Bulls then turned it over, but Durant missed badly on the ensuing possession. Hamilton couldn't connect on a solid medium range look. There was less than a minute to go.
Of course, despite not having a transcendent night, the Thunder called Durant's number. He swished a baseline jumper to give the Thunder a 4-point lead. The Bulls would need to score on their next possession.
Luckily, they did, as Hinrich maneuvered around the perimeter before dishing to Gibson, who swished a 15-footer. However, once again, Durant knocked home a Nowitzki-esque jumper over Deng's head to bring the Bulls deficit back to 4.
From the elbow, Gibson found a cutting Noah, who slammed it home with literally nobody anywhere near him. The Bulls then called a timeout to gather themselves/figure out who to foul, what with 15 seconds left in the game.
The Thunder managed to get it in to Durant, who went on to knock both free throws. After a missed Radmonovic trey, it was game over for the Bulls, with only 3.7 seconds to go.
It was a sloppy game (42 total turnovers between the two teams) marked by intermittent bursts of brilliant showmanship from Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton, Russell Westbrook and, of course, Kevin Durant. Both teams built up solid leads at various points only to see them collapse like sand castles melting into the sea.
Despite lapses along the way, the Bulls managed to battle back to make it a game until the very end. Deng and Hamilton had exceptional nights, and Hinrich was pretty solid as well. Boozer struggled for the third game in a row, and the Bulls only managed 14 bench points (with a 6-man rotation, if you include Radmonovic's brief cameo). For comparison, the Thunder only played 4 subs, who scored a combined 29 points.
That will be something that the Bulls will continue to have to live with post-Bench Mob. With Boozer continuing to struggle and Gibson et al failing to be regular offensive contributors (not that I'm expecting Gibson to be 10+ ppg guy right now like Ibaka), the pressure will continue to fall on the shoulders of guys like Hamilton and Deng to be on from outside.
On the bright side, I will say this: even though the Bulls are "only" 3-2, this was another laudable effort from a squad missing the guy the makes it all go. At some point I'm going to need to stop mentioning this fact, but Rose's absence cannot be understated. Picture a Bulls squad with Hinrich running the transition against the opponent's bench, and this is a team that looks pretty, pretty, pretty good.
The Bulls have another home contest Saturday against an, as of now, 3-1 Minnesota squad. With a game against Boston after that before a 5-game road tour, we'll learn a lot about this team in the coming weeks.