The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Chicago Bulls in Chicago by a score of 97-91. OKC's 5th game of the season was against their staunchest competition so far and both teams were tough on defense while still playing pre-season level offense.
The game was a seesaw affair for most of the night, with neither team taking more than a 6 point advantage throughout. The Thunder were plagued by 22 turnovers on the night, and as a result they found themselves trailing by 6 heading into the 4th. Durant, who committed 6 turnovers by himself, atoned for his off-night by scoring 10 of his 24 points in the 4th, turning a 6 point deficit into a 6 point winning margin. Russell Westbrook, who also suffered a poor shooting night in making only 7-22 from the floor, assisted in the turnaround effort by finishing a pair of layups and handing out 3 of his game-high 12 assists. Before the late-game theatrics, the Thunder were buoyed by another very strong effort by Serge Ibaka, who is quickly becoming the consistent player we all knew he could be. Ibaka scored 21 points, grabbed 9 rebounds (4 offensive) and blocked 4 shots.
The Bulls were led by Luol Deng, who scored 27 points while being matched up against Durant for most of the night. Also helping the Bulls' cause in a losing effort was Richard Hamilton, who finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Ah, don't you love the smell of November basketball? Wait, you missed November basketball? Oh, right.
This game probably should be remembered for 3 things (and forgotten for a whole lot of other things):
- Serge Ibaka's continued development as a legitimate offensive threat.
- The Thunder defense once again played very well, holding the Bulls to 41.7% shooting ont he night and forcing 20 turnovers against Chicago.
- Kevin Durant can still show up and save the day, something that he and maybe 2-3 other guys can do on a nightly basis (LeBron, Chris Paul, and Kob...ah, haha. Just kidding).
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder really persevered despite playing a very shoddy 3rd quarter. OKC scored only 18 points in the 3rd and it looked even worse than that. The Bulls' defense is tough no doubt, but OKC looked like they had no idea how to attack. As a result, the Thunder took the first open shot available, and as great defenses know, once you cause a team to settle into that mode you can actually start to dictate where the shots come from. For example, Westbrook was struggling from the perimeter most of the night, so what did the Thunder find the Bulls were giving OKC? Wide open jump shots for Westbrook. This is one of the areas where Westbrook must continue to work on how to self-correct - if his outside shot is not falling, he has to have the patience and discipline to look elsewhere.
Fortunately for OKC, the Bulls' offense was not that much better and after the horrific 3rd the Bulls only had a 6 point advantage. In any event, this early 4th quarter deficit was a great test for the now Harden-less Thunder bench. In past years the Thunder never had to worry much when Durant and Westbrook left the game because Harden knew how to come in and make up deficits by the time the star duo returned. On this night, the task fell to Eric Maynor, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison. Led by Maynor, who continues to work his way back into playing form, the Thunder fought their way back into the game. In a span of 4 minutes, Maynor accounted for almost all of OKC's offense. Maynor scored 7 points and had 2 assists in that time, and after Maynor gave way to Westbrook, the Thunder never trailed again.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
Because the Thunder bench did so well when the game was slipping away, the struggling Thunder stars were able to refocus and put the game away in the 4th. After Durant and Westbrook re-entered the game, the pair scored 14 of the team's final 18 points and at last looked like they had regained the calm composure necessary to deal with a stingy defense.
Westbrook in particular, who had struggled wildly with his shot all night, downshifted several gears and instead of hoisting up jumper after jumper, looked for the right seams in the defense and then attacked. Westbrook also showed great decision-making down the stretch, finding Durant for a lob and executing a great fast break opportunity that led to a layup.
Once the table was set, Durant finally reminded us, for the first time this season, that he is the game's best closer. Durant scored 10 points in the final 6:35 of the game, and none of them were easy. Still blanketed by the long-armed Deng, Durant hit a number of tough jumpers that kept OKC in front. Durant's final jumper, a one-legged Nowitzki-esque shot at the top of the key with 19 seconds remaining, pushed the lead to 4 points and all but sealed the outcome.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
Despite the poor play that was rampant in tonight's game, there are a number of positives that we can carry forward:
- Durant remembered that he is the game's most unguardable offensive player and finally broke out of his scoring doldrums.
- Westbrook continued to rack up his assist totals (12) while keeping his turnovers low (2).
- The Thunder bench played very well, outscoring the Bulls 29-14. Kevin Martin did his Harden-esque best by scoring 15 points on only 3-5 shooting on the night and showed excellent shooting discretion in the midst of a Thunder offense that was struggling to score. Meanwhile, Maynor scored 10 points and handed out 3 assists in only 12 minutes of play.
- The Thunder defense continues to show great signs. At this time in the past 2 seasons, the OKC defense was a complete mess. This time around however, the defense is showing much better composure and discipline, while keeping assignment mistakes to a minimum.
- It may surprise you, but the Thunder held their own on the boards, and they are ranked 9th overall in the league. While Bulls center Joakim Noah gets a lot of credit for crashing the offensive glass and had 13 boards overall, the Thunder were only outrebounded on the night by 3.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 24 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks (but 6 turnovers)
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Hasheem Thabeet, who did not score and injured his ankle late in the game.
Thunder Plunderer: Luol Deng, 27 points, including 3-6 from 3-point range.
Next game: vs Detroit Pistons on Nov. 9 at 7PM CDT
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.