How good are these Bulls? Yes, they started the day ten and a half games back of Atlanta, but everybody else in the East is at least ten and a half games back of Atlanta. The loss of Derrick Rose (again!) surely hurts: this man collects injuries the way Warren Buffett collects companies. Still, you have to admire a team that, according to that little squib in this morning’s Oklahoman, pulled off four wins against two losses before reaching the fifth and final game in this homestand. For something not at all connected to electoral politics in Chicago, that’s pretty damned impressive. Still, the Bulls, for the moment, are short on guards, though Aaron Brooks is no slouch, and besides there’s Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah to tower over anyone in the neighborhood. The Thunder jumped out to an early lead, which the Bulls entirely erased by the third quarter, but they couldn’t get a lead of more than one, and inside the 2:00 mark the Bulls were down only one at 100-99. Russell Westbrook (of course) drew a foul at 1:07, hit the first free throw, and when the second one didn’t fall, Enes Kanter stuffed it back in. Nikola Mirotić, who’d been firing treys all night, got his second (in nine tries) to bring the Bulls back to within one; a Westbrook jumper made it OKC 105-102. Mirotić, much more deadly at the stripe, knocked down two free throws, and with 4.9 seconds left, the Bulls got the shot of the night: a jumper by E’Twaun Moore. OKC came up empty, and Mirotić finished the job with one more free throw. Chicago 108, Oklahoma City 105, and that’s how good those Bulls are.
If your first question is “Another triple-double for Westbrook?” the answer is no. Still, in the third quarter Westbrook put up ten points in a mere 1:41, and he wound up with a better-than-respectable 43-7-8. Serge Ibaka, who had two points last night, had 25 this time; D. J. Augustin led the bench with 10. Uncharacteristically, the Thunder were seriously outrebounded, 48-41, and while they didn’t shoot badly 47 percent, one better than the Bulls their misses seemed that much more exasperating.
Chicago had three players over 20 Mirotić, off the bench, was team-high with 26, fourteen of them from the stripe (one fewer than the entire Thunder team), and both Gasol and Mike Dunleavy checked in with 21. The man of the moment, though, was Moore, whose 19 points set a new career high, not to mention the fact that it was ten times his per-game average.
One of those other teams who were ten and a half behind Atlanta, the Toronto Raptors, will be in OKC Sunday evening.