It was hard to get a feel for this game before tipoff. Yeah, Derrick Rose is still hors de combat, but the Bulls are hardly a one-player show: they beat the Miami Heat without Rose, and they were the first team to 40 wins this season. I concluded that it would be fairly tight early on, but the Thunder would blow it open in the third, the same way they handled the Lakers.
And so it came to pass. The Thunder, up 49-39 at the half, blew out the Bulls in the third, 31-12; the Bulls finished with a late rally, powered mostly by reserve guard John Lucas III, but OKC still won it by fourteen, 92-78.
Your telltale statistic: Lucas, who hit five threes in 13 attempts and led Chicago with 19 points, shot a mere 7-20 only slightly better than the rest of the team, which hit 33 percent from the floor irrespective of distance and only 67 percent of their free throws. The vaunted Bulls defense did outrebound the Thunder, 48-40, with Carlos Boozer roping in ten, but Chicago simply wasn’t making shots; forward Luol Deng, who’s always seemed like he ought to be an All-Star, got to demonstrate why he isn’t, hitting four of 13 and contributing neither a rebound nor an assist.
You want to see a line? Look at Russell Westbrook’s: 27 points, three rebounds, five assists, four steals, and no turnovers. Give him a +28 for the day, and then note that Kevin Durant had a +33 on 26 points and 10 boards. And at some point, you’ll notice that the Thunder are going for higher-percentage shots: they tossed up only nine treys instead of the usual 18 or 20. (Four connected, which is a plausible 44 percent.) So you shouldn’t be alarmed at the meager three offensive boards; if you get the ball through the net on the first try, you don’t have to worry about second chances on that possession.
And so OKC becomes the second team to 40 wins, and with 14 games left is still on pace for 50. There will, however, be obstacles, the first of which arrives in the city tomorrow: the ever-ferocious Memphis Grizzlies. After that, it’s off to Miami for a rematch with the Heat, who themselves were expecting to be at 40 wins by now.
Erratum: Jeff Brokaw reminds me that Luol Deng did make it to the All-Star roster this year (see pingback below).