OKLAHOMA CITY—Dwyane Wade twisted and spun and turned poor Anthony Morrow into a confusing, dizzying sap, unleashing a soft baseline fadeaway that danced around the rim while he faded near the Bulls’ bench.
As it nestled into the rim, Wade turned to a seated Rajon Rondo and slapped him in the chest, apparently so impressed with himself that even Wade could show Rondo some love to start the Bulls’ critical road trip.
There was plenty of love in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and plenty of energy—both from the Chicago Bulls as they put together their most comprehensive effort in quite awhile, pounding the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-100 on Wednesday night.
For all the talk about the road presenting an opportunity for the Bulls to bond more and heal some wounds that were opened or at least revealed to the public in the last week or so, a good old-fashioned butt-kicking has a way of making people seem to like each other a little more.
“It was one of our better games from start to finish,” Wade said. “It was a good way to start this trip off.”
The Bulls started their first long western swing with a big win over Portland and that confidence carried through as the Bulls went 4-2 in November, creating a sense of optimism they’ve been unable to fulfill in the time since.
Wednesday harkened back to the days where the Bulls were thought to be good, and interesting. Now, at least they’re interesting and on this night, they were very good, jumping out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter.
Next to a short stint between the end of the first and start of the second where the Thunder took a slim lead while the Bulls struggled to score, they quickly gathered themselves to dominate throughout—a rarity in recent time.
“I thought we did a great job of following the game plan and getting back and loading in transition,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.
And with the Oklahoma City Thunder having very little snap to their punches—unless you count Russell Westbrook punching a Jimmy Butler breakaway layup into the third row—the Bulls had a pretty easy and efficient time against the Thunder.
Shooting 60 percent through three quarters and 61 percent overall, the Bulls didn’t even need to hit triples but played with the desired pace and unselfishness Hoiberg dreams about.
“From the second quarter on I thought we were really good as far as our pace,” Hoiberg said. “We had 28 fast break points, getting the ball up the court and sharing it again.”
Wade had seven assists to go along with his seven rebounds and 18 points in 24 minutes while Rondo had six assists in 16 minutes. Butler, who could barely move in their first meeting as he was in the early stages of an illness, made up for it with 28 points in 30 minutes, hitting 11 of 17 shots and adding five assists with four rebounds.
Jerian Grant was off to a good start, scoring nine and hitting his first four shots from the field, taking turns with other perimeter defenders in guarding the unguardable Westbrook.
“I don’t ever think Westbrook is going to be tired. That guy, he’s not human,” Hoiberg said. “It doesn’t even look like he sweats when he’s out there on the floor. He’s a machine.”
Butler took the bulk of the assignment, and Westbrook shot 10 of 23 for 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes but didn’t make a truly impactful play when it counted.
“You have to challenge every shot he puts up,” Butler said. “He can go downhill at the basket, he can make the outside shot. You just have to try your best to make everything tougher.”
The Thunder were held to 36 percent shooting and kept bricking triples, shooting 8-for-35. Although the Thunder seemed to be teetering well into the first two quarters, on the second night of a back to back, the Bulls only held an eight-point lead going into halftime.
Then Wade took over in the third with scoring and playing, with some nice look-away passes for assists while he couldn’t get it going early, then once he did, carried the Bulls offense.
They stretched their lead to 21 at 76-55 midway through and cruised through the rest of the night.
He allowed Butler to rest a little on offense while Westbrook, the high-usage counterpart, was burning oil trying to keep the Thunder in the game. He had 27 by the end of the third but his team was awful shooting-wise and couldn’t get anything going.
It was just what the Bulls needed at just the right time.