Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter grabbed a rebound after a Bulls miss at the elbow and swiftly dribbled downcourt before throwing a bounce pass 20 feet between two defenders to Alex Abrines for a layup.
When Abrines came up short, Kanter swooped in for a tip-in layup and galloped back the other way as if he didn’t do something guards are supposed to do with the dribble, as if his swift finish was something reserved for athletic swingmen.
And he’s the backup center for the Thunder.
That was the gaping hole in talent with the frontcourt positions, with the Thunder throwing their girth, speed and athleticism around the United Center floor.
Oh yeah, and they have Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s version of Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.
That, along with Jimmy Butler’s illness meant the Bulls were no match for the Oklahoma City Thunder, falling 109-94 Monday, dropping them back to .500 mark before they head to Washington D.C. and New York for two road games.
Butler was a game-time decision with flu-like symptoms before the game, only mustering up a groggy “I’m good” when spotted in the locker room an hour prior to tipoff.
Butler started but missed all six of his shots in 29 minutes, scoring one point with seven assists on the day he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
“We appreciate him going out and giving it a shot,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg while adding neither Butler nor Dwyane Wade (scheduled rest) will play against the Wizards Tuesday in Washington D.C.. “It says a lot about him as a competitor. But he was obviously struggling and they sent him home after we took him out in the third quarter.”
Without him, the Bulls were seemingly rudderless against a team that was probably a bad matchup on a good day, shooting just 40 percent and being outscored 60-36 in the paint.
[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]
The Thunder jumped on the Bulls from the onset, as starting center Steven Adams and Kanter picked the Bulls apart on the interior, going 12 of 15 in the first half for 26 points and nine rebounds.
“That was the key to the game,” Hoiberg said. “We talked about their bigs being the best rim runners in the league, going down and getting deep position in transition.”
They were just too much for Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and whomever the Bulls had in uniform, taking big leads before the half while getting Gibson and Nikola Mirotic in foul trouble.
They could’ve used Mirotic with Butler being little more than a decoy but he picked up silly fouls in the first half before being pulled and playing a handful of minutes in the second half before Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg called in the available reserves for garbage time in the last 10 minutes as the Bulls trailed by 22.
“Those guys, Adams and Kanter, they are good,” said Wade, who led the Bulls with 22. “Very underrated for what they do. They get nasty down there. They came in and kicked our butts tonight. We weren’t prepared for the fight the bigs were bringing.”
Wade gave the Bulls their only real spurt, leading an 18-4 charge in the second quarter, hitting a few long range jumpers and putting fellow Tom Crean disciple Victor Oladipo in the torture chamber for some insided scores.
Wade added six assists and four rebounds, and Michael Carter-Williams had 15 points in 25 minutes.
Adams led the demolition with 22 and five rebounds, while Westbrook tried for another triple-double but finished a rebound short with 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in 33 minutes. Kanter had a double-double with 20 points and 11 boards in 27 minutes as the Thunder shot 57 percent and led by 25 in the second half.
It was a glimpse of life without Jimmy Butler and although extreme, it sure was ugly.