Thunder 92, Bulls 78
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s win over Chicago.
- It’s really a shame Derrick Rose couldn’t play. Instead of a potential Finals preview, we got 48 minutes of poo.
- Thunder heads aren’t complaining, I know. This is just what most of you probably wanted, a quick and easy blowout victory so everyone could rest up for what should be a physical battle against Memphis on Monday night.
- But it might have been better for the Thunder to be challenged a little more. OKC has struggled mightily with Rose in the past and there aren’t much better tests for pick-and-roll defenses than Rose and the Bulls. Given the current winning streak and how good things have been for the Thunder, it could have been useful for this one to have been more of a barometer game.
- Enough of all that. This was a great win for the Thunder. The Bulls came in 14-5 without Rose, and Chicago has some pretty solid wins without him. The Bulls are still plenty dangerous, and the Thunder took care of business. That was the first of many impressive things about this win. Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “At times, you can have a letdown when someone’s best player is missing. But he’s missed…10 games so we we’re prepared.”
- For anyone who has that friend who feels the need to discredit wins like this by the Thunder, here are four arguments you can fire at him or her: Feb. 4, March 3, March 13 and March 16. Those dates represent four Thunder losses. Each of them — San Antonio, Atlanta, San Antonio and Houston — was a defeat the Thunder took when the other team was without its best player (Manu Ginobili, Joe Johnson) or one of its best players (Kyle Lowry). Point being, wins under these circumstances aren’t always easy.
- Brooks called the Thunder’s defense the best of the season. Hard to argue with that. OKC held Chicago under 40 percent shooting all game and ultimately hounded the Bulls into a season-low 33 percent shooting. The Thunder just swarmed to the ball defensively, using active hands to come up with deflections and disrupt every part of the Bulls offensive rhythm.
- Brooks: “I liked the way our guys got after the basketball. We challenged every pass. We challenged every shot. And we rebounded the ball better as the game went on.”
- The third quarter was arguably the most impressive period of the game for the Thunder. From very early on in the period, you could tell that OKC came out looking to build on its 10-point lead and put away the Bulls early. And that’s exactly what happened. The Thunder used a 20-5 run over the first six minutes of the period to blow open the game. Eventually, the Thunder led by as many as 30.
- No starter (from either team) needed to play a single second of the fourth quarter. That’s how well in hand this one was. And it should benefit the Thunder as the rested Grizzlies come in here next on what will be the second night of a back-to-back for OKC.
- Another sign of how completely dominant the Thunder was. Midway through the third quarter, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant had combined for 48 points. The Bulls had 44! Through three quarters, Russ and KD had 53 points. The Bulls had 51.
- I loved, loved, loved Westbrook’s aggressiveness to start the game. With Rose out, Westbrook went right at C.J. Watson. From all areas: in the post, in transition, in the pick-and-roll and with his mid-range game. Westbrook was again unstoppable all night. He started this one making five of his first six shots thanks to his jumper working. It set the tone offensively, and the Bulls simply didn’t have the firepower to keep up.
- Durant had his jumper working early, too. He started 3-for-3 and all three were gorgeous, Kevin Durant-type shots. Coupled with Westbrook’s effectiveness, and that stingy D, the Bulls never stood a chance.
- This is getting ridiculous. Westbrook took two more shots than KD. Mark my words. This is going to be a huge problem come playoff time.
- April Fool’s! The Thunder is 20-4 when Westbrook takes more shots than KD. And the average margin of victory in those wins is a whopping 12.4 points!
- On a serious note. This was Westbrook’s sixth straight dominant game. As I wrote for Monday’s paper, Westbrook is on an unbelievable stretch right now and playing undoubtedly the best ball of his career. Over this six game winning streak, he’s averaged 28.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting.
- Kendrick Perkins on Westbrook: “I think he’s been doing a great job. He’s been a pleasure to play with. He’s definitely the key to why we’re winning these games now the way we’re winning them.”
- Brooks on Westbrook: “He’s playing good. Russell is a developing player. He works hard and that’s why he improves. He gives everything he has in practice, shoot-arounds, films, he’s coachable. He’s grown up right in front of our eyes. I’m happy for him. It doesn’t matter what people think about him. He just does his job and continues to improve. That’s what good pros do. Guys that get frustrated because they don’t play well in a certain game or they get down, Russell’s not like that. He focuses on what he has to do and on things that he can control and that’s his work. And he’s one of the best workers I’ve ever been around.”
- Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau on Westbrook: “Each year, to me, he’s gotten better and better. That says a lot about who he is. He’s a hard worker. Every aspect of his game, I think, has gotten better, and I think part of that comes with experience but it also says a lot about his drive.”
- Rose on Westbrook: “Almost the same grief that he gets I’ll probably get too by the way that we just play the game. We laugh about it.”
- Not a good night to be Bulls center Omer Asik. First Nick Collison posterizes him with a two-handed flush I didn’t even know Collison had in him. Then Westbrook goes and gets all disrespectful, and then KD swats his shot at the rim. Mind you, this all came within a 3 1/2-minute span.
- One take away that would concern me if I was a Thunder fan would be Chicago’s defense on James Harden. The Bulls did an excellent job of trapping Harden and shutting off his two-man game and forcing somebody else on the Thunder to beat them. We haven’t really seen many teams have that much success limiting Harden with such sound team defense. Shane Battier did an unbelievable one-on-one job against Harden last Sunday. The Bulls looked even better. It completely slowed down the second unit’s effectiveness, and if this does end up being a Finals matchup that will be something Brooks and his staff will have to counter.
- Thabo Sefolosha got some unusual minutes with the second string to start the second quarter. It was a result of Brooks going with a nine-man rotation today. Royal Ivey and Lazar Hayward didn’t check in until the start of the fourth quarter, when this game was well in hand. I honestly can’t say for sure why Brooks shortened his rotation tonight. Could have been something the Bulls were doing. Could have been Brooks just really, really wanted this win.
- I think Brooks wanted this win baaaaad. The Thunder had a 26 point lead late in the third quarter and Brooks was still standing and shouting on the sideline like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
- Hayward, I love him like a play cousin, but homeboy has never met a shot he didn’t like. I thought he was supposed to bring defensive toughness?
- Before the game, Thibodeau had high praise for Serge Ibaka: “To me, he’s an All-Star caliber player.”
- The Thunder was on the verge of registering a season low in turnovers before the fourth quarter started. Then the second and third string started throwing it all over the court and had seven fourth-quarter turnovers to make OKC finish with 13. The season-low is 10. Still, the improved ball security the Thunder has played with has been extremely encouraging.
- Up next. Memphis on Monday.
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