OKLAHOMA CITYOn April Fools Day, the joke wasnt just on the Bulls (42-12), they were the joke, as the Thunder (40-12) absolutely demolished them in Sundays marquee matchup, 92-78, a score that was closer than the actual affair, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Undermanned as always, the Bulls typical road toughness, defensive fortitude and overall pride were all almost completely absent, a rarity under Tom Thibodeau, in a game billed as an NBA Finals preview between the best teams in their respective conferences.
The potent All-Star duo of Kevin Durant (26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, five assists, four steals) got the Thunder off to a quick start, putting the Bulls in an 8-2 hole to begin the game. But the visitors fought their way back into the contest behind the interior play of Carlos Boozer (eight points, 10 rebounds) and the outside marksmanship of Kyle Korver (14 points, four assists), who started at shooting guard in place of Ronnie Brewer.
Thibodeau changing the starting lineup and thus, affecting his usual rotation notwithstanding, a familiar formula of inside-out offense, a strong effort on both ends of the glass and the correct defensive adjustments had the undermanned guests in rhythm, if still trailing. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls were down, 27-20, following a late-quarter three-pointer from Thunder sixth-man extraordinaire James Harden (11 points).
Contributions from reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, 11 rebounds) and starting point guard C.J. Watson starting in place of the injured Derrick Rose, who missed his 10th consecutive game with a strained right groin helped Chicago further narrow the gap, but the latter picking up his second foul briefly put a halt to the momentum.
Propelled by the relentless scoring of the aforementioned Durant and Westbrook Westbrook, Roses summer workout partner, drew Watsons third foul, forcing Thibodeau to turn to John Lucas III (19 points, four assists) and the interior defense of starters Serge Ibaka (nine points, six rebounds, five blocked shots) and Kendrick Perkins, as well as veteran backups Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed, a Chicago native, the Thunder built a double-digit lead.
However, led by Lucas instant-offense game, Boozers efficiency and Korvers shooting, the Bulls again trimmed the gap, making it a close-knit affair once again. But lapses on both ends toward the end of the half allowed the hosts to end the second quarter with the games momentum, sending the Bulls into the intermission with a 49-39 deficit.
After the break, Oklahoma City blitzed Chicago right out of the gates, going on a 15-2 run that was mostly propelled by the shared brilliance of Durant and Westbrook, both of whom the Bulls simply had no answers for. From contested jumpers to fast-break alley-oops, the Thunder seemingly got whatever they wanted against the Bulls vaunted defense and on the other end of the court, Chicago endured one of the offensive droughts they periodically suffer through.
Things didnt get any easier for the usually tough-minded Bulls as the third quarter waned on, as the Thunders lead continued to balloon and the separation between the two squads grew to an insurmountable margin. The situation incredibly became more disastrous, symbolized by a late-period Westbrook posterization of Omer Asik, and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were behind, 80-51.
Both Thibodeau and Thunder head coach Scott Brooks tacitly agreed that the game was over to begin the fourth quarter, with each coach sending in their deep reserves at the periods outset. Regardless of who was on the floor, it didnt matter with the laugher of a contest decided long beforehand and the Bulls frankly outclassed in every aspect of the game.
With the devastating loss behind them, the Bulls return to Chicago to host the Houston Rockets Monday at the United Center and will likely be without Rose, though Hamilton could be back in action, if Thibodeau deems the veteran ready to play. A more pressing concern, however, is to ensure the bad taste of Sundays loss doesnt linger, as the Bulls displayed glaringly poor body language and appeared to have a defeatist attitude, things that simply havent occurred under Thibodeau.