This game was nowhere near as compelling as expected. As it turns out, you need to score if you want to win in the NBA, and the Chicago Bulls simply could not fulfill that requirement. Offense was in short supply, with even the Thunder only managing 102 points in a game that was over well before the final frame. Of course, this did come anywhere near the futility of the Bulls, as they shot just 29.4% from the field and managed only 72 points in the game. Yep, it was that bad.
At the start, the Bulls defense was predictably solid, forcing the Thunder to turn the ball over four times in the opening three minutes of the game. Of course, watching the Bulls’ offense on Sunday night had to have been one of the worst forms of torture, and was akin to watching a men’s college mid-major try and fail time and time again to put the orange ball through the hoop. Think Northern Illinois University.
I mean, it technically and statistically was not quite that bad. But here are the facts: Chicago shot just 20% in the first quarter (6 of 30), and only scored three baskets in their half court offense. Two of those buckets were put-backs by Luol Deng in the waning minutes of the frame, so the only real half court basket was a runner by Rip Hamilton about two minutes into the game.
The Bulls’ offense consisted of a lot of standing around the perimeter, followed by a desperation screen-and-roll, usually between Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson. About half the time, Joakim Noah was practically forced to take an open (yes, this was intentional by the Thunder) mid-range jumper, which he clanked hard off the rim 100% of the time.
The Thunder’s offense was not much better early in the contest. Although they shot 44%, Kevin Durant forced some possessions early, and the only constant on the offensive end for Oklahoma City was the ability of Russell Westbrook to blow past the diminutive Nate Robinson whenever he felt compelled to do so.
Oklahoma City held a 24-16 lead at the start of the second quarter, and the anticipated storyline of the good Bulls’ defense and good Thunder offense butting heads had indeed played itself out. The second quarter was more of the same, but somehow, it was even uglier.
The Thunder’s turnover issues from the first quarter quickly became an epidemic in the second frame. It was the home team’s turn to take on the identity of a college squad, turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions via a three-second violation and a pair of travels. Of course, the Bulls’ offense was equally awful, and the game digressed into watching a pair of mid-majors play each other in a foot of mud.
At the midway point of the second quarter, Durant hit a pair of free throws to put the Thunder up by the score of 33-20. Both teams quickly entered the penalty, and the scoring picked up as each team attempted 15 free throws in the period. After Oklahoma City extended their lead to 46-28 with just under two minutes left in the half, Chicago pieced together a couple of real, live professional basketball offensive possessions, and the Bulls were able to go on a mini-run, bringing the halftime deficit to 49-36.
The third quarter was about as lopsided as possible, as the Bulls proved to be virtually incapable of scoring. Compounding matters, the Bulls’ bigs refused to give Robinson any help when Westbrook continually blew by him, leading to a slew of easy pull-up jumpers, layups, dunks, and assists to open shooters all over the floor.
The Bulls’ normally outstanding defense completely collapsed, allowing Oklahoma City to shoot 65% from the field in the third quarter en route to 31 points. The Chicago offense too often relied on standing around and hoping that Robinson could penetrate the paint, and there was more than one occasion in which an entire side of the floor was cleared for Noah in isolation. Which, of course, is always a bad thing, and a sign that your offense is worse than putrid.
The fourth quarter was a charade, with Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, and Daniel Orton seeing major minutes for the Thunder. The lead ballooned to as many as 33 points, with the final tally for the game settling at 102-72.
The Thunder did continue to turn the ball over at a crazy rate, turning the ball over 15 times before the start of the fourth quarter and 17 times on the night. But in typical Thunder fashion, they seemed to score on nearly every possession in which they avoided turning the ball over. Clearly, Oklahoma City’s pace of play is one reason for their high turnover rate, but it is certainly something that they should be working to fix down the stretch as they prepare for the playoffs.
As for the Bulls, well…nobody can guard Westbrook, honestly. But Robinson did a horrific job, and the Chicago help-defense completely broke down in the third quarter. Of course, the issue was almost entirely on the offensive end of floor, per usual. A stagnant offense with a limited amount of shooters and playmakers will always be a problem, but when the opponents happen to be a top offensive team themselves, chaos ensues. Holding the Thunder to 102 points is nothing to sneeze at, but scoring just 72 points as an NBA team is absolutely cause for concern.
Some thoughts and notes….
– Turnovers….wow. Each team finished the game with 17, but it felt like a whole lot more than that. This game was certainly not a looker, and other than some bursts of scoring from OKC, this particular tilt featured some of the ugliest offense you will see in an NBA game.
– With no point guard depth, the Bulls didn’t have a prayer to stop Westbrook. Their help-defense and rotations were mostly passable in the first half, but broke down completely in the third quarter. Robinson is a bad defender to start with, but when your second option to bring the ball up the floor is Marco Bellinelli, you simply will not win many games.
– Of course, the Bulls are still a good team. Their rotations are a bit odd (why doesn’t Daequan Cook get any run?), but their depth was ravaged by cheap ownership and injuries over the course of the past few months. If they can iron out some of their offensive issues, they should get past the first round in the Eastern Conference playoffs and have a shot at sneaking into the conference finals, depending on Rose’s recovery and integration into the offense.