How many times have we seen this in the last couple of years? The Thunder play it close for a half, slip badly in the third quarter, only to come back strong in the fourth. Tonight we had a textbook example: tied after the first quarter, up one at the half, outscored by seven in the third, and then a 17-6 run to start the fourth. Unfortunately, this was the point where Luol Deng realized he was much bigger than Kevin Martin and knocked out five consecutive points. Darnell Mayberry suggested at this point that the Thunder should put Martin on Kirk Hinrich, Russell Westbrook on Rip Hamilton, and Thabo Sefolosha on Deng. It was tied at 85-all with 3:30 left, but Scott Brooks stuck with small ball. And damn, but it paid off, to the tune of 97-91 over Chicago’s tall timbers.
Deng, albeit finishing -2, still wound up with a game-high 27 points, with Rip Hamilton adding 20 more, and both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer missing a double-double by a single point. The Bulls’ bench contributed 14 points, one less than Kevin Martin. Chicago had a slight lead in rebounds, and had two fewer turnovers — though 20 is nothing to brag about.
This was a big night for Serge Ibaka, who scored 21 on 8-15 shooting and reeled in nine boards. Durant, who got six of the last eight OKC points, finished with 24; Westbrook was erratic from the floor (7-22, 16 points) but mostly passing well (12 assists). Eric Maynor added ten points in a mere 12½ minutes. Telltale statistic: the Bulls took 11 more shots than the Thunder (84-73), but managed to hit fewer (35-36, 42 versus 49 percent). “Small ball,” says Scott Brooks, beaming.
Back home tomorrow to blow by the Pistons, and then a Sunday matchup with the Cavs.