THUNDER 97
BULLS 91
6 Straight points for Kevin Durant to seal the victory after two jump shots and two free throws

7 Rebounds for Thabo Sefolosha on the night, including three critical ones in the final four minutes of the game

12 Assists for Russell Westbrook, compared to only two turnovers

20-for-21 Turnovers forced by the Thunder on the night off of 10 steals, resulting in 20 points

21 Turnovers forced by the Thunder on the night off of 10 steals, resulting in 20 points

21 Points for Serge Ibaka, a season-high and one shy of his career-high

31-19 Scoring differential in the Thunder’s favor in the fourth quarter

46-34 Scoring differential in the paint for the Thunder, where the team shot 23-for-34

GAME IN REVIEW


RECAP:
CHICAGO -- Sometimes shots don’t fall, the ball bounces the wrong way and adversity comes from all directions, but a sign of a good team is when it can fight through all of that and give itself a chance to win.

In Thursday night’s 97-91 road victory against the physical, defensive-minded Chicago Bulls, the Thunder used every ounce of intestinal fortitude, mental toughness and grit it had to grind out a game that could have been lost because of difficult circumstances. Rough shooting nights, stingy Chicago defense and some turnovers presented the Thunder with a tough task in the closing minutes, but big rebounds from Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, along with the scoring prowess of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant sealed the victory.

“It was tough,” Ibaka said. “That’s how you learn. That’s how you become a good team. In the tough moments, against good teams, you try to keep pushing. Also, Kevin did a great job in the last minutes when we need him. He showed up.”

Ibaka kept the Thunder offense rolling in the first half when he put up 15 points, knocking down multiple jumpers and a corner three pointer. For the evening he finished with 21 points and nine rebounds to go with four blocks and some major defensive toughness in the closing minutes – boosting Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder team that needed his strength both physically and mentally tonight.

“Serge is a good player,” Brooks said. “He’s not only a defensive guy. He can score around the basket and he can score on the perimeter… I thought he was good in the second half defensively better than the first, and offensively he was good.”

While neither team held more than a nine-point lead at any point in the game, the Thunder entered the final quarter down by seven, a seemingly huge margin considering the flow, pace and intensity of the game. As the minutes trickled down into single digits, Sefolosha, who played a team-high 39 minutes on the dot, found himself in the midst of an entire sequence of events that shaped how the game ended.

In the final four minutes of action, Sefolosha pulled down three defensive rebounds, all of which came when he had to fight bigger players for position. In addition, he made a steal and swung the ball to Durant for an assist on his game-clinching 17-foot jumper with 19.5 seconds remaining.

“He’s always kind of like that unsung hero,” Brooks said. “It’s the defense in fighting through screens. It’s chasing down their best players. It’s chasing down the loose ball. He seems to have an amazing knack for that. Those are the plays that are the reason I love Thabo. He makes those winning plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet.”

The defense was stifling on both ends of the floor throughout the night, and Sefolosha certainly played a big role in that. The Thunder held the Bulls to 41.7 percent shooting while also forcing 21 turnovers, making 10 steals and blocking eight shots. The Bulls never scored more than 25 points in any single quarter, and when it got to winning time in the fourth quarter, the Thunder held its opponents to only 19.

“We were just being active and not giving up on any play,” Sefolosha said. “We didn’t take too many possessions off. Everybody was locked in and tried to help the next man.”

The mental toughness to which Ibaka spoke to was demonstrated by the multiple defensive efforts and defensive consistency the Thunder displayed throughout the night. It was perhaps personified, however, by the gutty play of Westbrook, who shook off a 1-for-7 start and a tough night shooting the ball overall to score two crucial driving layups late and dish out 12 assists to only two turnovers.

“It’s not always about scoring with Russ, he can do so much,” Durant said. “Scoring is one of his strong points, but he plays so hard… He was locked in tonight from start to finish. He shared the ball with everybody tonight and that’s what we need from him all season.”

As he enters his fifth season in the NBA, it’s nights like this one that help define Westbrook’s leadership. Under massive pressure and facing adversity after a slow start, Westbrook kept his cool, rallied his troops and trusted his coaching staff. In finding his niche as the floor general for part of the game, attacking twice late then setting up the offense for Durant’s buckets, Westbrook showed maturity and resolve.

“It was an up and down game, we stayed close and we fought towards the end of the game and got the win,” Westbrook said. “I take pride in that (leadership), especially this upcoming season of staying with my teammates, being a leader, picking everybody up – Kevin, Serge, whoever it is to stay positive.”

Turning Point:
The game was tied at 87 with 2:19 remaining and the Bulls had the ball. It was pressure time for the Thunder, and thanks to some clutch play from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Thunder came away victorious. After forcing a Joakim Noah missed jumper, Thabo Sefolosha reeled in a defensive rebound and Westbrook slinked into the lane to score a driving layup to put the Thunder up two. Two possessions later, Kevin Durant knocked down a difficult running jumper along the baseline, then followed it up with a fading jumper from the top of the key to give the Thunder a 93-89 lead with 19.5 seconds remaining. Durant and Kevin Martin both chipped in a pair of free throws to seal the victory.

“That’s winning time in the fourth quarter,” Durant said. “In the fourth quarter we turned it up a lot. If we want to be a really good team, we have to do that from the beginning of the game. That’s a good lesson for us and I’m glad that we came out and got the win.”

Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Incredible awareness by Collison and Durant on a back door cut to get a huge slam dunk. Great off the ball screen by Perkins on a Durant curl to free him up for a jumper. Great team defense and ball denial by Sefolosha forces a 24-second violation.

Plays the box score won't show, second half: Incredibly quick hands from Westbrook when isolated against Deng to knock the ball off of his man and out of bounds. Absolutely perfect bounce pass from Westbrook to Durant for a dunk. On a Rip Hamilton back cut, Durant smartly kicks the ball away to prevent a layup. Westbrook with amazing hustle to keep the play alive after a loose ball, knocking it off a Chicago player.



“We had a tough 42 minutes, coach said in the huddle, and the last six had to be really good for us to win this game. I think we came out and responded well.” – Kevin Durant
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