Through three quarters the Bulls and Thunder were neck and neck. Chicago pulled to within one point of OKC early in the fourth period and while I was never confident the Bulls would pull out the win, they were right there until a 50/50 ball changed everything.
The Bulls were on defense, and the Thunder were passing the ball around the perimeter. D.J. Augustin dove into the passing lane to intercept a pass and got a hand on it. For a moment it looked like an easy fast break layup was about to ensue, but the Thunder were able to bat the ball stronger causing D.J. to over run the play.
One second later, Derrick Fisher, left open due to D.J.'s effort, knocked down a three and brought the lead up to four. Maybe if D.J. had been a split second faster, and the Bulls had taken the lead everything would have changed or maybe nothing. As it stands, that play was near the beginning of what became a six and a half minute scoring drought.
The Bulls kept getting good looks. Wide open threes, shots close to the basket, offensive rebound chances, but nothing would fall. Everything rattled in and out. D.J. Augustin had a wide open corner three rattle in and out towards the end of this stretch which sort of summed up the futility the Bulls had going for them.
By the time Joakim Noah split a pair of free throws giving Chicago 76 points, the Thunder had rallied back to bring their total to 89. The game was over.
It all came down to shooting
The Bulls did everything they needed to do to win this game except shoot the ball well. They won the rebounding battle, they just five turnovers, and they held the Thunder to 41.5% from the field. OKC shot 13/25 from beyond the arc against the Bulls 5/22. Push both teams back towards their mean, and the Bulls win.
D.J. Augustin was 0-6 while Jimmy Butler was 1-6. The pair both missed plenty of open looks that they should have knocked down and were the biggest culprits in the Bulls lack of three point shooting. Make them both 2-6, and this game's got an exciting finish to it.
When does Noah not have a near triple double?
Nosh finished with a 9/12/9, and while he was on the verge of a triple double the fact that the Bulls were losing really made it difficult to notice or care about. However, what I find most impressive about Noah's recent hot passing streak is the lack of turnovers.
Over his last five games, Noah has 40 assists against six turnovers. That's eight assists per game vs 1.2 turnovers per game. That'd be a pretty damn good run for any PG and shows that the Bulls are actually getting efficient offense/decision making when they play through Noah.
What's also great about the way Noah compiles his assists is that he doesn't disrupt the offense, hold the ball a ton, or become the focal point. He typically gets the ball and gives it up quickly. Sometimes he finds a cutter, sometimes he just kicks it out to the perimeter, sometimes he takes a few dribbles to attack.
However, what he doesn't do frequently is hold the ball for any length of time. Many guards who are putting up eight plus assist nights are holding the ball 10-14 seconds out of the shot clock, probing, looking, and in some cases stagnating their offenses. Noah makes sure the ball keeps moving.
I don't that his numbers are sustainable if the Bulls had a couple ball dominant guys on the team, but his style of play is, because he'll keep moving the ball back to the scorers.
Two back in the loss column for the three seed
Chicago is presently lined up as the four seed. If the season ended today, they'd play the Wizards [nursing a half game lead over the Nets] in the first round of the playoffs. They'd face Indiana in the second round. It's not a sure thing, due to a tougher schedule down the stretch, but it seems unlikely that Indiana will drop their lead on Miami.
The Pacers have five games in the win column and two in the loss on the Heat, and while Miami will be massive favorites in all but three games less this season, they rarely show the killer instinct to play hard night in and night out.
Eyeballing it, I'd say the Nets have an easier schedule than the Wizards as well and will likely pass them to grab the four seed by the time the playoff rankings are done.
This leaves Chicago vs Toronto fighting it out for the three seed. Chicago is presently two games behind the Raptors in the loss column to claim that three seed and have an easier schedule down the stretch. I give Chicago about a 50/50 chance of passing the Raptors before the season ends.
I think if I had my way, I'd stay in the four slot regardless of who the opponent was in the first round, take one higher draft pick and call it a day. I think the Bulls are slight favorites either way in the first round but not heavy favorites, and they're likely to get annihilated in the second round either way.
One difference in draft position isn't much, but then again, there's no big difference in caliber of opponent in the 3rd/4th seed either way. Brooklyn has more experience and probably more talent, but Washington is the young type of run and gun team that sometimes the Bulls struggle to control or keep up with.
I like Chicago in a slowed down game that Brooklyn plays more so than the style of game Washington plays even if I think Brooklyn has more talent. I'll add all that up and call it a wash.
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