WICHITA, Kan.—It wasn’t the textbook victory witnessed thus far in the preseason, but facing arguably their stiffest competition yet Wednesday night, the Bulls managed to prevail, 104-95, over the Thunder Wednesday night, at the Intrust Bank Arena, remaining undefeated in exhibition contests.
While Oklahoma City counterpart Scott Brooks treated the matchup more like a traditional preseason affair—usual starting power forward Serge Ibaka got a night off, with youngster Perry Jones (5 points, 3 rebounds) taking his place and the likes of raw lottery pick Steven Adams (11 points, 7 rebounds) and undrafted rookie Rodney McGruder seeing first-quarter minutes—Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau continued to play a rotation similar to one that could be expected when the regular season begins next week.
Derrick Rose (26 points, 6 assists) resumed his stellar play in the exhibition campaign and after missing the previous three Bulls contests, he was rejoined by backcourt partner Jimmy Butler (12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), who picked up where he left off before he was sidelined by a bruised left knee. Carlos Boozer (20 points, 14 rebounds), coming off a double-double performance in Monday evening’s home win over Milwaukee, built upon that outing with a strong opening period, helping the Bulls, considered the visiting team at this neutral-site game, recover from an early deficit and take the lead.
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Behind the play of second-year guard Jeremy Lamb (22 points, 3 assists)—along with fellow youngster Reggie Jackson (14 points, 6 assists), he’s been afforded the opportunity to shine in the absence of injured All-Star Russell Westbrook—the Thunder kept things close, but at the end of the frame, the Bulls held a 25-20 advantage.
It remained a close-knit affair in the second quarter, as Lamb continued to shine, while Taj Gibson’s (8 points, 6 rebounds) solid preseason showed no signs of ceasing and upon being reinserted into the contest, Butler quickly made his presence felt again. After a slow start to the game, Thunder superstar Kevin Durant also got into the act, but he was countered by his close friend Rose (the pair are summer workout partners), who helped the Bulls build a cushion.
As newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr. (9 points, 3 rebounds) found his shooting stroke off the bench and All-Star small forward Luol Deng (20 points, 10 rebounds) also pitched in, the Bulls jumped out to a double-digit lead and went into halftime with a 51-40 lead.
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After the break, the trio of Durant, Jackson and blue-collar veteran power forward Nick Collison (12 points, 3 rebounds) helped Oklahoma City, the de facto host team, trim the deficit, making it a single-digit game, as the Bulls weren’t at their most efficient on the offensive end of the floor. Rose, in the midst of a poor shooting game, had his moments, displaying his uncanny explosiveness and change-of-direction ability, but couldn’t keep the Thunder, buoyed by Durant’s spectacular scoring, Jackson’s playmaking and Collison’s rugged play in the trenches, from closing in.
Still, heading into the final stanza, the Bulls managed to hold on to their slim winning margin, 74-71, after three quarters of play.
Oklahoma City tied the contest at 76-all early in the fourth and final frame—predictably leading to a Thibodeau timeout—and eventually overtook the Bulls, seizing their first lead since the opening period. Similar to last Friday’s matchup with Indiana, many of the Bulls’ core players, including Rose, were on the court entering the game’s stretch run, but unlike the win over the Pacers, the opposition continued to surge, as the Thunder even gained some separation from the so-called visitors.
But Rose, playing his highest minute total in the preseason, led the Bulls on a comeback spurt, regaining the game’s momentum, lead and holding on for the win with Friday’s exhibition finale against the Denver Nuggets at the United Center approaching.