The Chicago Bulls needed to work some things out on both sides of the floor. Turns out that facing a troubled Oklahoma City Thunder, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook unable or unwilling to change, was just what the doctor ordered.
The Bulls bounced back from their big loss to the Hornets with a 104-98 win over the Thunder, who have now lost three games in a row. Derrick Rose had no problem with Russell Westbrook or anyone else, finishing with 29 points. The Bulls forced the Thunder to put Enes Kanter on Rose (the Bulls did a great job all game long of putting Rose in favorable mismatches), which resulted in some very easy jump shot situations for the point guard, having his best game of the season, still playing with the mask that’s troubling his eyesight.
Jimmy Butler accompanied him with 26 points, getting away from Kevin Durant a number of times and also blocking him with the Bulls holding on to their lead in the final seconds. A day after Durant called Westbrook the team’s best player, it didn’t seem like anyone was ready to pick up that mantle. Both Durant and Westbrook missed tough shots in the finish, although the Thunder didn’t seem to be working towards getting anyone a little less obvious open. Westbrook got blocked by Taj Gibson to match his partner in crime in the way they got shut down in the end.
The Thunder didn’t blame the four games in five nights to their problems, because in their losses (3-3 so far this season) a problem in closing out tight games has risen. Be it the falling back on individual talent instead of playing smarter, less predictable basketball or the complete lack of any plan to go with someone, and relying on complete and total improvisation, which is always a difficult thing to rely on.
The Bulls seemed mostly happy for Rose, who hasn’t been very consistent in his offense, before the eye injury and with it bothering him. He scored 10 points on the final 3½ minutes of the game and while it’s getting kind of old talking about his “old MVP self”, it would be more accurate to say he simply played with the confidence and poise the Bulls want to see from the player they’ve built their team around in the last few years, falling short of expectations each time for different reasons, some of them out of their control.
Rose isn’t alone in this anymore, and although the Bulls didn’t change anything in terms of personnel from last season except the addition of rookie Bobby Portis, they expect different results. Playing without Mike Dunleavy has given both Doug McDermott and Tony Snell a chance to step up, but they haven’t been taking advantage of that so far. Moving Joakim Noah to the bench to partner with Taj Gibson has been mostly a positive change, maybe showing up in its finest moment against the Thunder, who might be slightly lost in terms of how they should play right now, unlike the Bulls, having an easier time figuring things out.