Thursday, October 28, 2010

Game one: Thunder 106, Bulls 95

By Matt McHale

In yesterday’s preview post, I said:

“The Bulls must contain Kevin Durant as best they can (good luck, Luol), while keeping KD and his teammates off the free throw line. It’s also imperative that they take care of the ball and crash the defensive glass. Outside of Durant, the Thunder rely on points off turnovers and second-chance points to generate offense.”

How did that turn out for the Bullies?

Well, Durant (30 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) was not contained. And the Thunder definitely weren’t kept off the line, as they went a nearly unthinkable 38-for-47 from the charity stripe (including 11-for-13 for Durant). The Bulls gave up only 9 offensive boards, but they surrendered 18 points off 15 turnovers.

Defense was a problem.

That may seem hard to believe considering the fact that Chicago held Oklahoma City to 41 percent shooting, including 22 percent (4-for-18) from downtown. But the Thunder — thanks in no small part to their astronomical free throw total — finished the game with an Offensive Rating of 107.2 points per 100 possessions.

Compare that to Chicago’s O-Rating of 96.1 and you can see that offense was a problem as well. It wasn’t that much of a problem through the first three quarters. The game was tied at 82-82 after three and it sure seemed as if the Bulls were in position to steal a game on the road.

Then things fell apart.

Derrick Rose and crew were outscored 24-13 in the final 12 minutes as the offense devolved so badly I half-wondered if Vinny Del Negro was patrolling the sidelines in a Tom Thibodeau costume. When the Bulls weren’t turning the ball over or bailing out with long jump shots, they were missing chippies or having the ball swatted away by an aggressive Oklahoma City defense that finished with 10 blocked shots and 11 steals.
The Bulls looked intimidated. They also looked out of gas.

The latter was certainly true of Rose. He finished with a team-high 28 points to go along with 6 assists and 4 rebounds, but he went 4-for-16 in the second half and scored only 4 points in the final 21 minutes. Derrick tried to take over in the fourth, but he was running on empty. It didn’t help that Rose was hampered by foul trouble, which got him out of rhythm. But still.

Joakim Noah (18 points, 19 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks) and Taj Gibson (16 points, 11 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals) both had strong games, but they don’t really generate offense in a pinch. Deng (13 points, 5-for-13, 2 rebounds, 4 turnovers) was eaten alive by Durant and looked every bit like the third or fourth option everybody says he is. Meanwhile, the reserves went 7-for-20, including 0-for-4 from downtown.
And did I mention that the Bulls missed nine foul shots?

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Chicago won the rebounding batte 50-44 (including 15-9 on the offensive glass) and outscored Oklahoma City 50-40 in the paint. The latter number is telling when you consider the fact that the Thunder led the league in blocked shots last season.

But the Bulls collapsed in the fourth and the offense ran like something out of the infamous VDN playbook.
Said Thibodeau: ”You can’t have blown sets in the fourth quarter. I think that’s where you have to be at your best. You have to be able to execute under pressure, and we’ll do better. We have to do better.”

This game was a prime example of why the Bulls need Carlos Boozer back as soon as possible. Simply put, without a second legitimate scoring option, there’s too much pressure on Rose to do everything. That’s a lot to ask against a really good defensive team like the Thunder, even for somebody as good as Rose.

Durant didn’t do it alone. Russell Westbrook (28 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) lit things up, going 8-for-15 from the field and 12-for-13 at the line. Oklahoma City had a one-two punch on offense. The Bulls — in the fourth quarter anyway — had one swing and a miss. Lots of misses actually.

Look, the Thunder are a good team that was playing at home in a season opener and Chicago was a team missing its second-best scorer. The loss makes sense.

It also makes me think that this opening stretch without Boozer could get messy.

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