Bulls Catch Fire in Windy City, Down Thunder 114-112
The Oklahoma City Thunder (16-8) lost for just the fourth time in the last 20 games on Friday night in Chicago, watching as Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine led the Bulls (6-20) to a 114-112 victory at the United Center. Though the Thunder erased an 11-point first half deficit and held a four-point lead after three quarters, Chicago outscored OKC 27-21 in the fourth — escaping when Paul George’s potential game-winning three failed to go down as time expired.
Russell Westbrook finished with his fifth triple-double of the season, posting 22 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists — though, it is stained by 10 costly turnovers. Steven Adams had a monster 14-point first quarter and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. George came back to earth after his 47-point outburst on Wednesday night, scoring 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting. After scoring 25 points in the fourth against the Nets just two days ago, the Bulls held George scoreless in the final 12 minutes of this one — shooting just twice and missing them both.
The Chicago offense had no trouble with the vaunted OKC defense, shooting 51.9 percent and hitting 11 three-pointers. Markkanen looked like a blossoming superstar en route to 22 points, six rebounds, three steals, and what eventually became the game-winning bucket with 4.9 seconds remaining. LaVine scored 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting and also handed out seven assists.
With the five-game winning streak over, the Thunder will return home with a 2-1 record on their brief swing of the East Coast. They’ll return to action on Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, taking on the Utah Jazz in a Northwest Division showdown.
First Half. Chicago built an early 11-point lead and led 70-62 at halftime — shooting 57.4 percent and going 7-of-12 from deep in the first two quarters. Adams (17), Schroder (11), and George (10) were all in double-figures. Westbrook had a 9-10-8 near triple-double. Didn’t matter — the Bulls couldn’t miss in what was their highest-scoring half of the season.
Third Quarter. Like Monday’s third quarter in Detroit (and Wednesday’s fourth quarter in Brooklyn), the Thunder fired on all cylinders for a stretch — forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. A Jerami Grant three-pointer gave OKC a 73-72 lead with 7:40 to go. Westbrook went on to clinch his triple-double before another Grant three gave the Thunder an 87-77 advantage with 4:01 to go. Lavine, Justin Holiday, and Jabari Parker got going late and cut the Thunder’s lead to 91-87 with one quarter to play — but the third was a 29-17 win for the Thunder.
Fourth Quarter. The Bulls switched the style up and slowed the game down in the fourth quarter, providing themselves with quality looks out of their offense. Fighting back, they tied the game 100-100 with 6:25 remaining and took a 103-100 lead on a LaVine three-pointer less than a minute later. Westbrook picked up his fifth foul shortly thereafter. The wheels felt very loose for the Thunder.
With Chicago holding on to a 105-102 lead with 3:18 to play, Billy Donovan went small in an attempt to change the tempo — removing Adams and rolling with a Westbrook-Schroder-Ferguson-George-Grant lineup. After trading a couple of buckets, a deep Westbrook three tied it 107-107 with 1:48 to go. LaVine then immediately hit a difficult fading jumper over Grant’s outstretched arm to put the Bulls back in front 109-107.
Adams checked back in with Westbrook having just missed his first of two at the line — converting the second to make it 109-108 Bulls with 1:24 to go. George then came up with a timely steal and found a streaking Schroder for a layup to put OKC up 110-109 with just 34 seconds left on the clock. After a Bulls timeout, Justin Holiday put a quick end to the Thunder’s new lead — hitting a three-pointer and putting Chicago ahead 112-110 with 22.7 remaining.
Out of a Billy Donovan timeout with the Thunder trailing by two, Westbrook received the inbounds pass and attacked the rim — converting through contact to tie it 112-112. The Bulls immediately inbounded and LaVine pushed it up the floor, crossing halfcourt with about 12 seconds remaining. Markkanen received the ball on a handoff that made George his primary defender — then cut across the free throw line before spinning into the lane and flipping in a one-hander over Adams and a trailing George. The Bulls took a 114-112 lead with 4.9 seconds on the clock.
The out-of-timeout play Donovan drew up for the potential game-winner was a good one — Adams freed up George with a screen at the block, leaving PG to cut to the top of the key and fire away a very clean look from straightaway. Unlike Wednesday in Brooklyn, it just didn’t fall. Chicago outscored the Thunder 27-21 in the final 12 minutes. George was scoreless on 0-of-2. Westbrook shot 3-of-7.
Final Thought. The Thunder finish 2-1 on their mini road trip — which feels fortunate considering tonight’s performance and a 23-point deficit on Wednesday. The wins over Detroit and Brooklyn both featured one solid quarter of OKC basketball and tonight was no different, as the Thunder looked fully-operational in the third quarter. It couldn’t be sustained and the Bulls made them pay for less than 48 minutes of effectiveness. Winning 16 of the last 20 is the silver lining here — they’ll look to get right on Monday against Utah.