Ice-cold Bulls blown out in Oklahoma City

Ice-cold Bulls blown out in Oklahoma City

February 25, 2013, 12:00 am
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OKLAHOMA CITY — Another 2012 NBA finalist, another embarrassing blowout defeat for the Bulls, who displayed none of their usual toughness, but traded in major turnover issues for terrible shooting.

After seemingly bouncing back from last Thursday’s home loss to Miami by drubbing Charlotte on the road the next night, the Bulls (33-23) were dominated by the Thunder (41-15) from the opening tip to the final buzzer Sunday evening in a remarkably uninspired 102-72 loss, in which they shot only 29.1 percent from the floor.

Nate Robinson (13 points), once again filling in for injured starter Kirk Hinrich, was the Bulls’ catalyst in the early going, as the diminutive scorer, a former Thunder player, wasn’t hesitant about launching shots, but was still an effective playmaker.

[RELATED: Bulls' vulnerability evident in 'frustrating' loss to Thunder]

His Oklahoma City counterpart, All-Star Russell Westbrook (23 points), had it going from the outset — his famous emotion was also on display, as the explosive point guard was hit with a technical foul midway through the opening period for jawing with an official over a perceived missed call — while teammate Kevin Durant (19 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, two blocked shots), the league’s reigning three-time scoring champion, not only produced points, but contributed as a rebounder.

The visitors’ poor shooting allowed the hosts to build a cushion, though not a big one, as the Thunder also struggled from the field and while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would prefer that his team was more efficient offensively, the slug-it-out nature of the affair lent itself more to the style of the guests.

Although the Bulls only shot 20 percent for the frame, at the end of the first quarter, they only trailed by the relatively minor deficit of 24-16.

Despite the Bulls’ shooting woes, they managed to not let things get out of hand early in the second quarter — All-Star Luol Deng (13 points) and reserve sharpshooter Marco Belinelli were the only two players to have solid shooting performances in the first two periods — mostly due to the Thunder’s ball-security issues.

But while it remained a single-digit affair, the momentum was clearly going the other way, as a thunderous, uncontested Westbrook dunk in transition drew Thibodeau’s ire, prompting a timeout.

Oklahoma City began to open things up, extending its winning margin to double digits, as the Bulls’ remarkably bad offensive evening persisted — Robinson and All-Star center Joakim Noah started the contest making one out of their first seven shot attempts, while reserve Taj Gibson was 0-for-8, just to name a few notables — even as Durant made only three of his first 11 shots from the field.

[RELATED: Bulls notes -- Gibson injured in loss]

With emerging power forward Serge Ibaka (17 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) also making an impact, the Thunder’s advantage gradually ballooned, but a late-period spurt propelled by Robinson — he was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line in the stanza — put a cap on the first-half carnage and at the intermission, the Bulls were behind by the less-daunting score of 49-36.

Oklahoma City exerted its will on both ends of the floor after the break, quickly building a 20-point spread, as the trio of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka took care of scoring duties, while the Thunder’s underrated team defense continued to stymie the Bulls and keep them off the glass.

Deng and Robinson — the latter wasn’t exactly efficient as a shooter — were the visitors’ go-to scorers, but their efforts weren’t enough to narrow the gap, as the Bulls’ horrific shooting night just wouldn’t end.

Worse still, the Bulls, always known as a hard-nosed squad, seemingly lost the collective will to resist the Thunder’s onslaught, as open jumpers and drives all the way to the rim were the norm on defense, and a lack of concentration and settling for tough jumpers was commonplace on the offensive end of the court.

The visitors’ inability to run their offense and unusual lack of defensive intensity led to them facing an 80-54 deficit heading into the final stanza.

Seldom-used backup center Nazr Mohammed, another former Thunder player — reserve sharpshooter Daequan Cook also played for Oklahoma City and like Robinson and Mohammed, received a nice reception from the home crowd upon entering later in the period — started the fourth quarter, a sign that Thibodeau, not known for waving the white flag until the bitter end of even huge losses, knew the contest was over.

The second unit’s lack of fight was also disconcerting, but the game was obviously long gone, giving Oklahoma City’s cadre of young prospects a chance to play extended minutes.

When things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse, Gibson suffered a left-knee sprain, compounding a miserable evening for the visitors.

By the time the game ended at a half-empty Chesapeake Energy Arena — even the majority of the energetic home crowd had enough of the massacre — the Bulls' glaring weakness of being unequipped to compete with superior athletic teams had been completely exposed.