The Game in a Nutshell
Russell Westbrook was unable to record his fifth straight triple double tonight, but he was able to net 43 points on 43% shooting. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough for the Thunder to get it done against the Bulls, as Chicago's duo of E'Twaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic really hauled the mail for Chicago.
Westbrook's usual dominance combined with Ibaka's mid-range shot saw the Thunder up early. However, Moore and Mirotic were able to close the gap for Chicago in the second quarter. The duo with a came up with a couple of plays at the rim directly off of a couple Westbrook turnovers. Westbrook came raring back in the third, with 19 points of his own that kicked the Thunder back into a 9 point lead.
The Thunder held command of their lead in the early goings of the fourth. D.J. Augustin would register 10 points in the first four and a half minutes, as the Thunder passed the ball effortlessly. But OKC's offense soon sputtered out, as the Thunder scored 5 total points in the final five minutes of the game. On the other end, Chicago's bench was destroying OKC with motion offense and great passing. Nikola Mirotic had 19 points in the fourth quarter, taking Serge Ibaka way out onto the perimeter. E'Twaun Moore chipped in 13 fourth quarter points himself, working almost exclusively on the weak side. The Thunder kept committing to the pressure game, and they just couldn't seem to find a lineup that worked when they needed it most.
In Chicago, ball movement is important
The Bulls registered 26 total assists tonight, 4 above their average of 22 assists a game on the season. Chicago also only committed 10 turnovers, 4 less than their average of 14 on the season. Those two statistics are testament to Chicago's ball movement tonight, which really won them the game. It was obvious that the Bulls had less offensive talent on the floor, but they kept managing to find open shots because they knew how to attack the Thunder's defense.
The excellent games of E'Twaun Moore, Mike Dunleavy, and Joakim Noah really symbolize this part of how the Bulls played tonight. Moore was constantly lurking on the weak side, catching and shooting whenever he had space. Mike Dunleavy was more of a crafty veteran. I saw Dunleavy use power to get past Singler a couple of times, but then use space to get a few points past the inattentive Anthony Morrow. Either way, both Moore and Dunleavy were great at finding scores that way. Joakim Noah was an excellent conduit, registering 9 assists. Noah was simply able to get deep on the pick and roll game, draw double teams, and make excellent reads.
In Chicago, paint domination is also important
The Bulls would outscore the Thunder in the paint, 54-30. Credit for that can go to two areas of the team. The first was from the aforementioned ball movement that got Moore and Dunleavy deep. But Pau Gasol chipped in 10 points inside the painted area, while Nikola Mirotic chipped in 6. Also, Gasol and Mirotic combined for 20 total free throw attempts, a lot of which could have very well come in the paint. OKC's bigs seemed to struggle with Gasol and Mirotic whenever either would receive the ball far away from the basket. The latter two were just too crafty, using quick moves to slide effortlessly past their defender and into the paint.
OKC also lost the total rebounding battle, 48-41. It's really hard to pinpoint the fault there, as Chicago seems to just have had a slight edge in each category. Both teams were pretty much even when it came to second chance points. The Thunder have dominated their opponents on the boards as of late, so even having a somewhat even battle here was key for Chicago.
But if KD were here
Westbrook and Ibaka took 51 shots tonight, shooting 51% from the floor. The rest of the team took 37 shots, shooting 41% from the floor. It's really hard to put the blame on anybody here, because 41% is a perfectly acceptable percentage for the rest of your team to shoot. But without KD here to add his solid arsenal of shots, it's hard for this offense to go from good to great.
There are other small things you can look at as well. The Thunder took 69% of their two point shots outside of the paint, which should say something about how well the Bulls were defending it. As such, OKC's emerging young center Enes Kanter was limited to 6 total shots tonight. Noah's defense definitely had something to do with Kanter's bad game. But Kanter's lack of shot attempts could also be attributed to Westbrook and Ibaka, whom were always in the same lineup as him.
Furthermore, OKC's bench really struggled to find a go-to weapon. Dion Waiters has gotten consistently better about his shot selection, and his 3 of 10 performance tonight with 3 assists isn't the worst thing in the world. But it's still hard to consistently trust Waiters with the offense when he can't hit an open catch and shoot jumper. D.J. Augustin and Anthony Morrow do the majority of their scoring off the ball, and Collison obviously isn't a scorer. So when Scott Brooks needed a bench player to step up and help out Ibaka and Westbrook at the end of the game, no one had the right stuff. Both Waiters and Augustin got cracks at being the late game hero, but neither could seem to make an impact.
But if Adams were here
It also goes without saying that Steven Adams presence could have changed things. Serge Ibaka had to play a whopping 46 minutes tonight because Mitch McGary could only survive two minutes. McGary's defense had no place against the rough and tumble Bulls, and Chicago was already having an easy go of it as it was. Had Adams been able to play, at the very least Ibaka could have taken a break in the second half. Because Ibaka didn't get a break, he would shoot only 2 shots and grab only 3 rebounds during the final 12 minutes of play. It's also interesting to think how Kanter might have been able to get in a scoring battle with Mirotic had he started on the bench.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, who has shred his humanity
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, the Ironman
Thunder Blunder: Mitch McGary, the defensive sieve
Thunder Plunderer: Nikola Mirotic, the free throw addict
Next Game: Versus the Toronto Raptors, Sunday, March 8th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!