Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
Updated at 11:50 PM
By Aggrey Sam
Payback is, well, payback is a dish best served cold, as in the Windy City's weather.
After falling in Oklahoma City for both teams' season opener, the Bulls (11-8) avenged the defeat in Monday night's rematch at the United Center, triumphing, 99-90 over the Thunder (14-8).
Spurred by Carlos Boozer's growing comfort level in the offense, Derrick Rose's playmaking ability in an atypical scoring outing for the burgeoning superstar and strong efforts defensively and on the glass, Chicago used a stellar third-quarter performance to break open a close game.
In the early going, the Bulls made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to Boozer (29 points, 12 rebounds), who responded with Chicago's first two baskets. For the visitors, it wasn't Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green or even former Bull Thabo Sefolosha who did the early damage, but center Nenad Kristic, who scored eight of the Thunder's first 10 points.
An unexpected early contribution from light-scoring shooting guard Keith Bogans was a boon, although early foul trouble for Joakim Noah (six points, 12 rebounds before fouling out in only 21 minutes) put a slight damper on things. The game remained a neck-and-neck affair throughout the first quarter, with the Bulls ending things with a 24-22 lead.
The contest remained as tight as stretch jeans in the early portion of the second period, with reserve swingmen Ronnie Brewer and Oklahoma City's James Harden providing sparks for their respective teams with their slashing ability. Buoyed by the shooting of Kyle Korver (13 points) and the all-around scoring of Luol Deng (19 points, eight rebounds, four assists), the Bulls edged past the Thunder, building a nice cushion.
Instead of closing out the half with a double-figure advantage, however, Chicago permitted their guests to make a late push. The Bulls took a 53-48 lead into intermission.
The combination of Boozer and Bogans started the second half in strong fashion for the Bulls, as the duo's early third-quarter spurt pushed Chicago's lead into double digits. Rose's (11 points, nine assists) playmaking and distribution skills were on full display - Boozer was the primary beneficiary - as the All-Star's unselfishness permitted his teammates to get easy scoring opportunities, despite an off night shooting the ball in his point-guard battle with close friend Westbrook (15 points, seven assists).
"I think I played decent. One of the best scorers -- he averages 24 points -- he had 15 tonight; that's 'West' Westbrook. Just making sure that every shot that he had, making sure that somebody was in front of him or I was contesting all of them," said Rose. "I knew it was going to be a rough night after a couple of shots. My teammates came through and were hitting shots. When I was passing them the ball, they didn't hesitate. They were shooting, driving or making plays for others."
"The way he's playing right now -- attacking, going to the line, getting fouled -- he's playing the way he usually plays," continued Rose about his main target on the evening, Boozer. "He makes the game easy. I've just got to pass it to him. He's going to find a way to score or get fouled. That's what we need right now on this team, somebody in the post or somebody down low that can really score, and that's him."
Added Thibodeau: "I just mentioned it to Derrick. I thought he didn't have a particularly good shooting night, but I thought he played well. I thought he ran the team extremely well."
With Boozer's offensive game rolling, an active defense (reserve Taj Gibson, in Noah's absence, was key in this aspect) befuddling Oklahoma City and the team's rebounding advantage over Oklahoma City still intact even with Noah sitting with four fouls -- not to mention Thunder head coach Scott Brooks surprisingly benching starting forwards Durant (29 points, five rebounds) and Green for an extended stretch -- the Bulls cruised through the period. Following a precisely-measured Rose buzzer-beater from just inside halfcourt, Chicago led, 82-66, heading into the fourth quarter.
"The biggest thing people always tell me 'I remember Ben Gordon told me this'" he said, "In clutch situations like that, always try to aim for the backboard," said Rose. "I just thought about it at that point. I just aimed for it and it went in."
Neither team was particularly sharp to start the final period, as turnovers and fouls -- including Noah's fifth -- seemingly plagued every other possession. But while the Bulls had room to spare a few offensive lapses, their defense maintained its strong play, resulting in inefficient and unsuccessful Oklahoma City possessions, despite Green and Durant, the league's reigning scoring champ, being back in the contest.
Chicago prevented the Thunder from cutting their deficit down the stretch by virtue of mostly intelligent offensive possessions and a refusal to relax defensively. Toward the end, the biggest drama for fans was whether the Bulls would reach 100 points -- therefore, earning free Big Macs -- and although favorite son Rose couldn't pull off the feat, he'll likely remain in their good stead.
"It means a lot, knowing that we beat a team that's over .500, especially a team like this that's young, athletic. They usually give teams a lot of problems, especially on the inside and in transition," said Rose. "We stuck together as a team and a lot of people came out on fire tonight. Kyle gave us a boost and Ronnie, and of course, 'Booz.' We need to come out and play like that every night."
An addendum: Payback tastes best with a little 'Booz' to wash it down.
"We want to be an inside-out team and I think it's important. I think you can see what Carlos brings to the team," said Thibodeau. "He's such a threat in every aspect, from transition to pick-and-roll to even catch-and-shoot. He has the ability to find open seams and I thought our guys did a great job in searching him out."
"I think what's really good about it is all his shots come in the rhythm of the game, which is great. We can slow it down and throw it in the post if we have to, which is a thing we hadn't had before. The best is definitely yet to come because we still have a lot of work to do," chimed in Noah.
The man himself weighed in on his big night.
"I'm getting my legs back and my timing, and I feel like I'm getting better every day with our offense, with our defensive sets and I'm getting in a good rhythm," he said. "But I'm not satisfied; I'm hungry. I want more out of this. I'm not where I want to be at.
"The more easy buckets you get, it opens it up for everybody. Our whole mindset is to get as many easy buckets in transition, get layups because once you get layups, they start crowding the paint and it opens it up for our jump shooters. We've got Kyle Korver, the best shooter in the NBA from the three. We've got Luol Deng, one of the most versatile shooters. We've got guys that can hit shots, so our focus is to try to get layups and make them suck in to get open shots to everybody else.
"We're not a team that's satisfied easy. We've got big goals and we've got big aspirations, so we continue to have the mindset of trying to get better every day."
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.