Thunder bigs too much for Bulls with ailing Jimmy Butler

Thunder bigs too much for Bulls with ailing Jimmy Butler

Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter grabbed a rebound after a Bulls miss at the elbow and swiftly dribbled downcourt before throwing a bounce pass 20 feet between two defenders to Alex Abrines for a layup.

When Abrines came up short, Kanter swooped in for a tip-in layup and galloped back the other way as if he didn’t do something guards are supposed to do with the dribble, as if his swift finish was something reserved for athletic swingmen.

And he’s the backup center for the Thunder.

That was the gaping hole in talent with the frontcourt positions, with the Thunder throwing their girth, speed and athleticism around the United Center floor.

Oh yeah, and they have Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s version of Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.

That, along with Jimmy Butler’s illness meant the Bulls were no match for the Oklahoma City Thunder, falling 109-94 Monday, dropping them back to .500 mark before they head to Washington D.C. and New York for two road games.

Butler was a game-time decision with flu-like symptoms before the game, only mustering up a groggy “I’m good” when spotted in the locker room an hour prior to tipoff.

Butler started but missed all six of his shots in 29 minutes, scoring one point with seven assists on the day he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

“We appreciate him going out and giving it a shot,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg while adding neither Butler nor Dwyane Wade (scheduled rest) will play against the Wizards Tuesday in Washington D.C.. “It says a lot about him as a competitor. But he was obviously struggling and they sent him home after we took him out in the third quarter.”

Without him, the Bulls were seemingly rudderless against a team that was probably a bad matchup on a good day, shooting just 40 percent and being outscored 60-36 in the paint.

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The Thunder jumped on the Bulls from the onset, as starting center Steven Adams and Kanter picked the Bulls apart on the interior, going 12 of 15 in the first half for 26 points and nine rebounds.

“That was the key to the game,” Hoiberg said. “We talked about their bigs being the best rim runners in the league, going down and getting deep position in transition.”

They were just too much for Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and whomever the Bulls had in uniform, taking big leads before the half while getting Gibson and Nikola Mirotic in foul trouble.

They could’ve used Mirotic with Butler being little more than a decoy but he picked up silly fouls in the first half before being pulled and playing a handful of minutes in the second half before Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg called in the available reserves for garbage time in the last 10 minutes as the Bulls trailed by 22.

“Those guys, Adams and Kanter, they are good,” said Wade, who led the Bulls with 22. “Very underrated for what they do. They get nasty down there. They came in and kicked our butts tonight. We weren’t prepared for the fight the bigs were bringing.”

Wade gave the Bulls their only real spurt, leading an 18-4 charge in the second quarter, hitting a few long range jumpers and putting fellow Tom Crean disciple Victor Oladipo in the torture chamber for some insided scores.

Wade added six assists and four rebounds, and Michael Carter-Williams had 15 points in 25 minutes.

Adams led the demolition with 22 and five rebounds, while Westbrook tried for another triple-double but finished a rebound short with 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in 33 minutes. Kanter had a double-double with 20 points and 11 boards in 27 minutes as the Thunder shot 57 percent and led by 25 in the second half.

It was a glimpse of life without Jimmy Butler and although extreme, it sure was ugly.

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Although the punches didn't connect, the NBA was not going to take the Robin Lopez-Serge Ibaka confrontation lightly, suspending each one game Wednesday afternoon.

Lopez served his time in the Bulls' surprising 117-95 win over the Detroit Pistons at the United Center. Per league rules, Lopez was not allowed on team property but he did speak to head coach Fred Hoiberg when the team returned from Toronto after the Bulls' heartbreaking overtime loss Tuesday.

Lopez will return to the Bulls lineup Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, a relief to the Bulls considering the league could've taken a harsher stance with Lopez — a two- or three-game suspension was being mulled at the league office, sources tell CSNChicago.com

Lopez was pushed into Ibaka after Jimmy Butler hit a three in the second half, and the two combatants squared off underneath the rim, with officials, teammates and coaches trying to separate them.

Ibaka appeared to have his arm reaching at Lopez's neck, prompting Lopez to swing at Ibaka. He missed, and Ibaka grazed Lopez's face with a wild swing of his own.

Both were ejected after being separated and shortly thereafter, the Raptors begun their run from being down 15 points to end the Bulls' recent mastery over them.

Despite the effect, Lopez had the full support of his teammates and coaching staff.

"I think you ask anybody in that locker room, Robin Lopez is one of the most if not the most popular guy on this team," Hoiberg said. "He's a guy that goes out and approaches his job the same way every day. He goes to work. He never complains. He does what's asked of him. Also if you asked them, they'd tell you he's as passionate of a guy as we have on this team as well. He's got a fire to him that you just don't ever want to take away."

That fire clearly got underneath Lopez and Ibaka, causing Lopez to lunge at Ibaka. Telling from the immediate reaction from the Bulls players and from Hoiberg and associate coach Jim Boylen, it seems as if it wasn't the first time Lopez's engine ran a little hot.

"This game gets very competitive obviously, it gets heated at times," Hoiberg said. "That happened last night. It's unfortunate what went down, but we've all got Robin's back. I think everybody in this organization, from the players all the way to up top, has Robin's back. We'll deal with it and move on. We'll be happy to have him in the lineup Friday."

Lopez averages 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game, slightly higher than his career averages through his nine NBA seasons.

Considering the play seemed relatively tame, it was slightly puzzling to see both players go at each other so ferociously but there appeared to be more to the story than first blush.

"There's always more going on than it appears," Hoiberg said. "You go back and watch on film, there's little jabs that happen in the course of the game and sometimes it reaches the boiling point. Robin is a guy that plays this game with a lot of passion, and you don't ever want to see something like that happen, but it did. And again, you move on."

Normally, Lopez attacks mascots during timeouts or pregame warm-ups, so nobody felt Lopez was looking for an altercation, and considering it only cost him a game — one the Bulls won anyways — Hoiberg didn't seem too stressed about it beforehand.

"Yeah, you know, Robin's going to have our guys' backs as much as anybody in the locker room," Hoiberg said. "Again, you look in that locker room, all those guys are going to have each other's back, Robin as much as anybody. Unfortunately, it happened. It looked like it was a little hip check, they turned around and got squared off, and we all know what happened. Again, we'll all be excited to have Robin back in the lineup on Friday."

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