When Tom Thibodeau informed reporters pregame that both Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng would be sitting tonight’s game, the next three hours instantly became a formality. League rules mandate that you actually have to play a 48-minute game for it to count, so both teams soldiered through it, but the outcome was understood.
The Bulls, wounded and limping and on the second night of a back-to-back, were set to take what was coming to them as the Thunder could really only lose to themselves tonight. There were a few lapses in focus as Chicago trimmed a double-digit first half lead to three heading into the break, but even still, things were never really in doubt. The Thunder led wire-to-wire and had the Bulls at arm’s length for almost the entire second half.
The win takes OKC to 21-4, the same record they had through 25 last season. But they’re now 13-0 at home, which according to Elias, is the best home start for a team since the 2007-08 Cavs. Which I think might be important.
Here’s why: Against the Magic on Sunday, it looked to me like the Thunder got bored. At times tonight, I could see it again. The NBA season is 82 games (BREAKING) and it can drag. When you’re as good as the Thunder are and you realize you’re playing for April and May and everything in between is mostly filler, it can sometimes be tough to stay engaged, to get up night to night. Obviously there are things like seeding, which keeps their attention, but sometimes, you’ve got to find little things to focus on. Like trying to be undefeated at home for as long as possible.
“I’ve not mentioned it to the guys, not one time,” Scott Brooks said of the home record. “The only thing I mention is we have a lot of pride in our home court so let’s take advantage and continue to make our crowd proud and play 48 hard minutes of basketball. That’s the only thing I talk about. I know we’re 13-0 … but I’m not putting on the board, ‘We’re 13-0, let’s go for 14.’ We just want to play good basketball.”
It’s kind of similar to how the Heat’s 27-game win streak became something for them to focus on. A season within a season kind of thing. Not that it’s all over if the Thunder drop a game or two, but it’s at least something to get up for each night. When you’re as good as they are, especially in this building, you can start taking wins for granted I think.
Basically every player that was asked about it downplayed the home record, just saying they’re trying to get better and blah blah blah. But you know they’re thinking about it. Or will be soon if they keep it up much longer.
But through 25 games, the Thunder are exactly in the same place they were last season at this point. With all the anxiety and agitation through the team’s offseason — letting Kevin Martin walk, not signing anyone of note, etc — they’re back on top of the league with the best record and look entirely unbeatable at times. They’re crushing teams at home, playing well on the road and sit on an eight-game win streak with 16 out of 17 in the win column.
Why can’t it be April yet?
- OK, so a pretty weird thing happened postgame. Thabo Sefolosha left the Thunder’s locker room really quickly (with a bottle of wine in his hand) and was requested for an interview by a reporter. Thabo said he was headed out for something, but would come back. After around 15 minutes, Thabo came back and was standing near the entrance of the locker room, and with him Joakim Noah. As Thabo spoke to a reporter with Noah standing alongside him, Perk noticed the Bulls center and immediately took exception saying loudly, “We just let anyone in here now?” Noah: “C’mon man.” Perk: “Just asking.” Noah: “You want me to wait outside?” Perk: “I’m just saying though.” Noah: “If you want me to wait outside, I’ll wait outside.” Perk: “Get your ass up outta here.” And Noah turned and left.
- The consensus from other Thunder players was that Perk was in the right and that Thabo shouldn’t have invited Noah in with him. Thabo was apparently hanging in the Bulls locker room some postgame (remember, he played with them for a while) and reciprocated. Russell Westbrook especially didn’t seem to like it.
- Best joke I saw about this was, “That’s the best defense Perk has played all year.”
- KD tonight: 32 points on 13-20 shooting, 4-5 from 3 with nine rebounds, six assists and three steals.
- KD’s last four games: 30.2 points on 60.8 percent from the floor, 64.7 percent from 3 and 90.9 percent from the line. That’s 30-plus points on 60-60-90 splits. I need a new pair of pants.
- Nick Collison with my favorite quote of the year about KD: “I’m really glad he plays on our team.”
- Russell Westbrook with another double-double, scoring 20 points with 10 assists.
- Reggie Jackson just completely took over in the second quarter. He had 15 points at half and could’ve maybe had 30 if he wanted it. He finished with 18 on 8-12 shooting. But postgame, before he spoke to the media Jackson asked for a box score and looked it over intently. When he finished, he crumpled it up and threw it on the floor. Asked about OKC’s home record, he said “Don’t even know what it is. Right now, I’m a little frustrated.” What are you frustrated about? “I had six turnovers man.” Is that why you crumpled up the box score? “Yeah, I had six turnovers.”
- Weird stat: The Bulls took 39 free throws to OKC’s 14. Had it not been for the free throw line, the Thunder would’ve won this one by 40.
- The Bulls shot 37.7 percent from the field, and that even makes it seem like they were scorching hot.
- Question: How many games would the Thunder’s second unit win as a starting five (with an average bench)? I’m thinking at least 30.
- KD’s one-legged Larry Bird shot tonight was purrrrrrty.
- Thabo did a few things on the offensive end for the first time in a while. First double-digit scoring game since the season opener.
- Serge Ibaka had another rough game, again because of foul trouble. Five points, three rebounds and three blocks. After the first half, he didn’t have a point with just one rebound. He picked up a fourth foul early in the third — 10:26 left — and Brooks made a choice to leave him in. At the time, it was a five-point game. After it, Ibaka hit a mid-range jumper, then a 3, and the Thunder go on a 20-9 run and essentially put the game away.
- Brooks on leaving Ibaka in: “It was a feel thing. He didn’t have a good first half. But that was a time where he could play some extra minutes and get on a nice roll there. We had a good lineup there.”
- Didn’t quite understand the idea behind playing Fisher extended minutes, especially leaving him on Dunleavy. Wouldn’t Perry Jones have made a lot more sense in that matchup? Oh, who am I kidding.
- That sequence where Ibaka blocked Noah twice then KD hit a 3 was fun.
- Does anyone love the two-for-one more than Reggie Jackson? Also, I feel like he’s shooting 93 percent on two-for-one shots.
- Thought ref Michael Lewis died at one point in the first half. D.J. Augustin wiped him out and it was touch and go for a minute.
- It took three Bulls to wrestle a loose ball away from Steven Adams.
- Speaking of, quality game from the Kiwi. Four points, seven rebounds and four steals in 27 minutes.
- Second quarter, Taj Gibson was doing some work on Ibaka, so when Perk subbed in, he turned to Scott Brooks and said, “I got Gibson.” First play, Bulls go to Gibson and he beats Perk off the dribble for two.
- If you don’t point at your teammate that just set you up for an assist, then you’re the worst person ever. Seriously. Try and find a player that doesn’t.
- Durant got hit with a technical foul in the first half. Just his second one of the season after having 12 last year.
- Every rebound Jeremy Lamb gets looks cool. He’s always jumping really high, and he’s normally grabbing it with one hand.
- Really annoyed me the whole game how OKC’s PA guy pronounced D.J. Augustin’s last name “Augustan.”
Next up: At the Spurs on Saturday