With the NBA's reigning MVP sidelined, Sunday's showdown between conference leaders lacked the luster of what was intended to be a made-for-television matchup.
And anyone who tuned in to the nationally televised broadcast on ABC was promptly treated to a dud.
Unless, of course, you're a Thunder fan.
From the opening tip, the Thunder took advantage of Derrick Rose's absence and ran all over the Chicago Bulls before cruising to a 92-78 win inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The final score was far from indicative of how thoroughly the Thunder beat up the Bulls. Oklahoma City led by as many as 30 points and never trailed against a Bulls team that, at 14-6 without Rose, clearly has found a way to still be dominant even while its All-Star point guard nurses a groin injury.
“At times, you can have a letdown when someone's best player is missing,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But he's missed…10 games so we were prepared.”
The Thunder hasn't exactly excelled at similar mental tests — see losses to San Antonio without Manu Ginobili (twice), Atlanta without Joe Johnson and Houston without Kyle Lowry — but used this showcase to send a statement.
By halftime, ABC's analysts were gushing over OKC, calling the Thunder the best team in the league and point guard Russell Westbrook the best of the best at the position.
After the game, Brooks simply called it a sound victory.
“That was an efficient win for us,” Brooks said. “There's no question we played our best defense of the year.”
With swarming defense that started with intense ball pressure and quick rotations, the Thunder registered countless deflections and suffocated the Bulls. The result was the Thunder forcing Chicago into one bad shot after another before the Bulls ultimately finished with a season-low 33 percent shooting clip.
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