What a bummer. I honestly don’t know if I can pick myself up after this one. I wanted it. And to think Kevin Durant was just 58 games away from tying Wilt Chamberlain’s record for consecutive games with 30 or more points. As Mrs. Daily Thunder put it, “Looks like Wilt’s record will just have to wait.” Alas.
But as a consolation prize, at least the Thunder won the game, taking over in the second half to beat Chicago 98-85 and stop the Bulls streak at four.
If I weren’t looking at the score every six seconds, I would have thought Oklahoma City trailed by at least 15 points in the third quarter. Chicago was absolutely pounded the Thunder on the glass (11 offensive rebounds in the third quarter) and just appeared to be abusing OKC.
But the Thunder was actually ahead four. And actually had complete control of the game. In the second half, the Thunder held the Bulls to just 33 points. That’s 14 in the third, 19 in the fourth. Meanwhile, OKC scored 51 in the second half. That right there people, is a good formula to winning.
Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 54 of OKC’s 98 points, with Westbrook scoring 29 on 13-24 shooting, dishing out six assists (all in the second half) and pulling down seven rebounds. Without Westbrook’s first half (14 points), OKC would have been in big time trouble. He hit jumpers, attacked the rim, stole passes and just kept the Thunder in it early. One play I have to point out that illustrates Westbrook’s steady improvement and understanding of the game: Late in the second quarter, Eric Maynor found Westbrook alone in the corner for an open 3. Russ pondered the shot, passed on it and instead drove baseline for an absolutely stunning up-and-under left-handed and-1. It was truly a thing of beauty. And it said to me Westbrook is just getting things.
And while KD was of course his usual excellent self (25 points on 9-14), it was his rebounding that really made the most difference. In that third quarter where Chicago was just embarrassing OKC on the glass, Durant checked back in and did what I was waiting for SOMEONE to do: get after the ball. Durant didn’t wait for the ball to bounce to him. He went after it. That’s the main issue for guys like Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. They stand and watch the ball come off the rim and wait for it. Durant went after the ball. Thabo goes after the ball. Thank goodness for it or I think the Bulls might have just started missing on purpose so they could tip in rebounds.
Not to mention James Harden’s importance off the bench. He hit three big time deep balls (13 points, 5-11 shooting, four assists) and basically buried any Bulls comeback. And honestly, he was really good defensively as well. Scott Brooks went with an interesting lineup to start the second and fourth quarters that had Maynor running point, Westbrook off the ball, Harden at small forward and Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka inside. It was a small group, but that lineup really kind of turned the tide for OKC. They brought great energy, played defense, moved the ball and kind of righted things.
- Jeff Green was extremely quiet… again. He played only 14 minutes, hit 3-8 shots for six points and grabbed just one rebound. But he did hit two very important shots, including a prayer that beat the shot clock in the third quarter.
- It was a dunk party for the Bulls early. I counted five in the first quarter alone. After that, the Thunder really tightened up.
- Speaking of locking down, Derrick Rose had eight points in the first quarter. He didn’t score again until there was 6:50 left in the fourth. Thabo switched over and guarded him for the bulk of the time, but Westbrook actually checked Rose really well in the second half. Rose did finish with 19 on 9-20 shooting, but his disappearance is what really cost the Bulls.
- One thing about Rose: His body control is just awesome. It’s the main thing he does much better than Westbrook. When Rose gets to the rim he hangs, takes contact and still stays in control of his body. If Westbrook can develop that skill, he could be unstoppable at the rim.
- Something I noticed tonight that may or may not be true: When Krstic has to hop to set his feet, he misses more often than not. When he catches completely in rhythm with his feet set, he’s deadly.
- Westbrook forced things a bit in the second quarter. He was the offensive load-bearer and he just tried a little too hard. Some people see him as a shooting guard but stretches like that almost tell me he’s better suited orchestrating with the ball in his hands.
- From Keith in the comments: “Fun fact: This is the first game of the year that the Thunder have won without being led in scoring by Kevin Durant.”
- Maynor was excellent off the bench, hitting two deep 3s at the end of the 24. Since joining OKC, he’s 5-8 from 3.
- Again, Krstic is just not aggressive on the glass. Perfect example. 8:15 in the third, Luol Deng got to the rim and got two offensive boards as Nenad just stood behind him and watched. You can’t teach a guy to be aggressive, but you’d really like to see your 7’0 center go after rebounds. However, did have two really nice blocks.
- After 12 first half turnovers, OKC cut it down to eight in the second half. The Bulls got extremely sloppy, especially in the second half, turning the ball over five times in six possessions at one point.
- Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison were fantastic off the bench. Ibaka had six points, eight rebounds and one scintillating block on Tyrus Thomas at the rim and Collison was steady with eight rebounds in 30 minutes. I’m not going to lie, I’m not fired up about Green’s recent struggles, but reality is not everyone plays well for 82 games and it’s encouraging to know OKC’s got guys that can pick up the slack off the pine.
- I don’t know how both of Eric Maynor’s legs are still in tact after his spill at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but they are. Flexibility is a good thing.
- The Bulls shot just 35 percent. They did have 25 offensive rebounds but when you miss that much, you get a lot of chances at them. We knew Joakim Noah would get after it on the glass, but it never became a huge factor. Even still, Chicago only outrebounded the Thunder by four in the end.
This is really an underrated win. The Bulls were hot, playing at home and rested. They needed another win to really seal in their recent success. Oklahoma City was coming off an overtime loss, looked flat early and didn’t play well for a half. Yet the Thunder won by 13. OKC just executed, got big performances out of Westbrook and Durant and just rode the defense to a nice win. It felt bad in stretches, but when you look at the box score and the scoreboard, it looks really nice. If you want to complain about individual performances, fine. But it’s the performance of the team that matters and as a full unit, they did a pretty darn good job tonight.
Next up: The Thunder come back home for a game Wednesday against the Hornets.