Playing without Derrick Rose (groin) for the 10th straight game, the Chicago Bulls suffered a 92-78 drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Bulls dropped to 42-12 this season, which remained the best record in the NBA.
The Bulls placed three players in double figures – John Lucas III (19 points), Kyle Korver (14) and Taj Gibson (10) – against the Thunder (40-12). But none of it mattered, because they had no answer for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant all afternoon. Westbrook poured in a game-high 27 points in just 29 minutes of action, including a ferocious one-handed dunk over Omer Asik in the third quarter. Durant, whom Rose believes is this season’s league MVP, dropped 26 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes. Both players dominated from start to finish, helping the Thunder pull away early in the second half. And it didn’t help the Bulls’ cause that they shot a paltry 33 percent from the field for the game, including 8-for-24 from three-point range, and turned the ball over 12 times.
With Rip Hamilton (shoulder) out once again, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau switched up his starting lineup, putting Korver in Ronnie Brewer’s place at shooting guard. Aside from Korver, though, the Bulls shot below 40 percent from the field throughout the first half and around 25 percent from beyond the arc, where they continued to hoist shots. The visitors were mired by four turnovers in the first quarter, after which they trailed 27-20, but cleaned up their ball control in the second quarter. In many ways, the Bulls were fortunate to be down just 49-39 at halftime, as the Thunder went on an 8-0 run to take a 37-26 lead midway through the second and appeared set to break the game open.
The Bulls’ luck caught up to them in the third quarter when they were thoroughly outworked and outplayed. They didn’t get anything going offensively, and usually when that happens their defense fills the gaps, but the Thunder erupted for a 31-point frame as the Bulls scored just 12. While Chicago’s shooting plummeted, its defense was getting beat time and time again – from giving up long-range jumpers to alley-oop jumpers. The Thunder led 80-51 through three quarters of play and never looked back, as Thibodeau smartly rolled with a reserve lineup down the stretch.
Even though the Bulls were without their leader and reigning league MVP, in Rose, they have proved all season long that they can compete – and win – against some of the elite teams, defeating squads like the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic over the past two weeks. But they simply didn’t have the same energy and intensity on this afternoon, as emotional leader Joakim Noah had just five points and six rebounds while missing 7-of-8 shots in 19 minutes.
With or without Rose, Thibodeau has instilled in his Bulls team that it can defeat any team in the league. They know that they had to be almost flawless against the Thunder, but they looked overwhelmed and a step slow defensively for most of the contest, which fans certainly don’t see often out of a Thibodeau-coached club, Rose or not.
The loss marked just the Bulls’ second in the last eight games. Still, they are awaiting Rose’s return, and the 6-foot-3 point guard told ESPN before the contest that he expects to return in the coming week.
Next up, the Bulls get a chance to redeem themselves soon as they return to action on Monday night when they play the Houston Rockets (28-24; face the Indiana Pacers Sunday night) at the United Center.