Bulls start road trip strong, blow out the Thunder 128-100

Bulls dominate in Oklahoma City to get back to .500

By Sam Smith

It was perhaps appropriate Wednesday following the Bulls impressive 128-100 victory over the Oklahoma Thunder that Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 28 points, quoted for inspiration and explanation the Batman adversary, Two Face, the crusading attorney turned disfigured villain.

Because as the Bulls returned to .500 at 25-25 with one of their best games of the season, this multiple personality team continues to confound, confuse, amaze and please, this time with a dominating game against Russell Westbrook’s Thunder.

“This is a good start (to the six-game road trip), great start,” said Butler, who led six Bulls in double figures to a season best team 60.5 percent shooting and a second consecutive game scoring at least 120 points. “Tough game on the road. Everyone hung tough and stayed together. We got to do what we got to do.”

It was terrific stuff from the Bulls after a shaky 21-20 first quarter lead. They scored 34 points in the second quarter on 62 percent shooting to take a 55-47 halftime lead. And then it was a 39-point third quarter detonation on an amazing 75 percent shooting to lead 94-73 and basically end the Thunder’s chance for late lightning. Westbrook came back in a vain attempt to get another triple double with nine minutes left and the Thunder, 28-22, trailing by 26. He left with 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds, but it was all Bulls with 25 assists and a rare 28 fast break points.

Dwyane Wade had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Robin Lopez had 14 with Jerian Grant 12 and Doug McDermott and Cristiano Felicio 11 points each. It was time for the non rotation reserves with seven minutes left and the Bulls leading by 26 points.

“One of our better wins of the year from start to finish, taking care of business, a good way to start this trip,” said Wade.

“Winning cures all; we do know that. I thought even though last week was interesting from a media standpoint, I thought as a team we did some great things by getting in the locker room, locking ourselves in the room for awhile and talking it out, hashing out things, figuring out what we need to do. No one likes it when we are going through it. Obviously, my comments and Jimmy’s comments and (Rajon) Rondo’s comments were very strong, but all of it was challenges to eachother. Unfortunately, yes it did play out in the media, but I think we all heard eachother loud and clear and everyone came in and responded to that. Whatever it takes to get us focused, to understand we have a tough road ahead. Tonight was one of our best, most complete games we played and I like this team when our backs are against the wall."

Wade speakting to ESPN following the game

So, yes, the team that a few days ago was the object of national derision for the comments and responses among Butler, Wade and Rondo now is coming off its first back to back games scoring at least 120 points, according to ESPN, in more than two decades. The Bulls now are more solidly in seventh in the Eastern Conference and moving the ball unselfishly like they did to start the season.

So when asked about he and this team getting the attention they do, Butler was philosophical in, at least, a comic book way.

“In the wise words of Harvey Dent,” said Butler, “you either die the hero or live long enough to become a villain. It is what it is. I’ll continue to be who I am.”

Just who these Bulls are we are never quite sure.

Harvey Dent is the Batman villain Two Face who once was a crusading district attorney scarred by acid thrown in his face and going mad afterward to become a Batman enemy. So one side of his face normal, one side hideous. It’s sort of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comparison of good and evil, excellence and ineffectiveness, the Bulls against the Thunder or Raptors or Cavs or the Bulls against the Bucks or Knicks or Mavericks.

How can they be so good against the good teams and so bad against the bad teams?

Is it just, as Butler says, being who he (or they) are. Or is it an evolution and a team with last week’s sessions, fines, controversy, benchings and honesty that is ready to show it is more than the sum of everyone’s observations?

“I’ve been impressed with how the guys bounced back after a tough week. There’s been so much negativity about our team; our guys have stuck together and hung in there with the things that happened last week. Guys got things off their chest and we responded."

Head coach Fred Hoiberg after the win against the Thunder

So maybe Wade was right that it took being a bad guy for there to be more good guys.

It wasn’t immediately clear, though the Bulls did open with an 18-9 lead against a lethargic Thunder team playing it’s third in four nights. The Bulls were playing a bit too much isolation early and allowing second shots with failure to box out. But the Thunder’s offense is atrocious other than Westbrook with Enes Kanter injured. Oklahoma City went ahead late in the first quarter before a Felicio push shot at the buzzer on an inbounds pass from Rajon Rondo gave the Bulls the 21-20 lead.

Felicio has shown an improving ability to catch the ball rolling to the basket and in tight spaces, and both Wade and Rondo, who combined for 13 assists, found him often inside. Wade’s lob to Felicio early in the second quarter started a nice Bulls run that saw the Bulls close the second quarter with seven points in the last 35 seconds on a Taj Gibson three pointer, a Butler steal and Westbrook goal tend and Butler double pumping for a driving score after Westbrook missed a three.

“Offensively, we kind of picked up where we left off last game in Philly,” said Wade. “Everybody was being involved, the ball was moving around, going after certain matchups. We did a good job.”

The Bulls usually go inside to start halves, but they went to Wade and Butler early to open the third quarter. Wade hit a jumper and when the Thunder trapped Butler, he found Lopez, who shot seven of eight with that reliable mid range shot. Butler and Wade took turns challenging the defense and getting to the free throw line as an 11-0 run gave the Bulls a 72-51 lead five minutes into the second half and it was suddenly about over. No big comebacks this time, though the Thunder would get within 76-60.

Paul Zipser then came in and made a three and had a three-point play, Felicio had a slam dunk with another tough catch on the run and Butler banged his way inside as the Thunder tried to go small for a change and just disappeared. When Wade scored on four straight possessions early in the fourth quarter it was over even if the triple double seemed to matter to someone with Westbrook’s return with the hopeless deficit.

So the Bulls, attempting to avoid their own schizophrenia, move on to Houston where they are playing the Super Bowl this weekend. If the win in Oklahoma City was an effective kickoff to the road trip, then the Bulls are looking for some more good returns. We’ve all heard that it’s darkest before the dawn. And as Harvey Dent also famously warned, the dawn is coming. A new day for the Bulls? Or more clouds and storms?

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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