Observations from the Bulls’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder
Pau Gasol: Gasol’s methodical return to form after a grueling summer continued against OKC’s plethora of bigs, who were essentially powerless to stop him. The Bulls used him to facilitate offense from the block and elbows and he delivered to the tune of a season-high six assists (matched twice this year). His alley-oop to Jimmy Butler got Butler going after missing his first four shots. He scored 21 and grabbed 13 rebounds, played forceful on the interior and was the anchor inside, especially with Joakim Noah out with his shoulder injury. In December, Gasol is averaging 19.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.6 rebounds
Consistency: It’s that ever-elusive quality about this team, one that’s run away from the Bulls since the start of this season. But jumping out to an 11-0 start showed the Bulls en masse were serious about things, shocking the home crowd who were ready for a party.
And after the late second-quarter lull pulled the Thunder to within two at the half, the Bulls jumped out to an 8-0 run at the start of the third, re-establishing tempo and control.
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Derrick Rose scored three of the four baskets in that span, all in attack mode, sensing the momentum was in danger in a hostile environment. He was in foul trouble early and eventually fouled out with 25 seconds left. But his 30 minutes on the court was full of impact, even though he was in danger of going assist-less until he found Doug McDermott for a crucial triple during a late run.
Keeping the “others” in check: The duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is unstoppable and was that way on Friday, combining to score 55 of the 96 Thunder points. Usually that spells victory since the Thunder has so many other options to score, with Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter, to name a few.
Kanter had a monster game, especially on the glass with 13 boards to go with his 14 points but Ibaka, Waiters and the rest of the supporting cast suffered.
But the Bulls’ defense held the Thunder to just 38.5 percent shooting, allowing only Durant (11-21) to have a plus-.500 night from the field, as even he went 1-6 from 3-point range.
They forced the manic Westbrook into six turnovers, as he missed six of his seven triples on the way to hitting just nine of his 23 shots.
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It won’t show up as a defensive masterpiece, but Rose, Butler and the rest of the Bulls returned to their defensive roots to large measure to put up one of their best showings on that end of the season, considering the competition.
Poise: There was slippage, and there were instances where it looked like the Bulls would let the Thunder back in the game, especially late. But the group that seemed to be splitting at the seams with the events of the last week or so banded together to get stops.
Durant, Westbrook and Anthony Morrow got going, with Morrow hitting a pair of triples to send Chesapeake Energy Arena into a frenzy when a 16-point lead was cut to eight with 4:47 left.
But Butler attacked the rim to get to the line and the Bulls restored order against a desperate comeback.
The bottom line: Whenever you think you’ve got the Bulls pegged in one direction or the other, they rewrite the story…and considering the circumstances, one would say the result was quite predictable.