3 Number of times this season, including tonight, that Kevin Durant has had a double-double by halftime

9 Points for Jeremy Lamb, a career-high, on 2-for-3 shooting including 4-for-4 shooting from the free throw line

10-for-17 Shooting numbers for Russell Westbrook, who scored a game-high 23 points

16 Rebounds for Kevin Durant, two shy of tying a career-high, to go with 19 points and six assists

17 Points for Serge Ibaka on 7-for-12 shooting, plus ten rebounds for a double-double

29.1 Shooting percentage for the Bulls, the lowest by any team in the NBA this season. The Thunder helped the Bobcats set the previous low as well

31-18 The amount by which the Thunder outscored the Bulls in the third quarter

52-44 Rebounding advantage for the Thunder, which got eight from Kendrick Perkins


Feb. 24th, 2013

It seems simple, but when teammates know where one another is and what they’re going to do, it’s a lot easier to play a successful team game.

In Sunday night’s 102-72 Thunder victory over the Chicago Bulls, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club communicated with one another throughout the game in order to hold the Bulls down all evening. Led by the front line of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder held the Bulls to 29.1 percent shooting, the best mark for any defense since the Thunder held the Charlotte Bobcats to the same figure earlier this season. The key was on every screen, every cut and drive to the basket by the Bulls, the five men on the floor for the Thunder talked to one another.

“Communication is number one in defense,” Ibaka said. “Helping also. Everybody was active. I think that’s what we did (tonight).”

Because of that communication, the Thunder was able to coordinate with one another through each defensive possession, limiting the number of open looks at the basket the Bulls got throughout the night. It seemed that a Thunder defender always had a hand in the face of any Chicago player taking a shot, particularly the Bulls’ big men. Perkins, Ibaka and Durant held the Chicago trio of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah to a combined 23 points on 9-for-28 shooting. It started early with Perkins stymying Deng for nearly the full 24 second clock.

“We just tried to make it tough on them,” Durant said. “They have two All-Stars over there and we took it personally. I knew Perk did and I know I just tried to come out and play my man as hard as I could. We helped each other out. We talked. When we talk on defense, that’s what makes us better.”

Not only did the Thunder’s front court triumvirate make life difficult for Chicago’s big men offensively, they also took care of business on the boards. By combining for 34 rebounds between the three of them, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins prevented second chance opportunities for the Bulls most of the night and also created a few second chances for themselves as the Thunder out-rebounded Chicago by eight. Those boards then led to easy offense on the other end, where Russell Westbrook was able to get out into space to score 23 points on a cool 10-for-17 shooting.

“I thought we rebounded the ball well,” Westbrook said. “Kevin, Serge and Perk all did a good job at rebounding the ball and letting us get out in transition.”

The toughness that the Thunder displayed on the night was important for the team as it continues to grow and develop throughout the season. By staying strong on the boards, being tied on a string defensively and taking pride in that end of the floor, the Thunder was able to build up a substantial lead heading into halftime, then break the game open for good, taking a 26-point lead in to the third quarter. By making the first punch, Brooks’ squad set the stage to display the full 48-minute game it desired.

“We wanted to be physical,” Brooks said. “They’re a very aggressive defensive team and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t get outplayed in that area. Perk is the anchor defensively. He sets the tone. He doesn’t (give up) a lot of easy looks around the basket and Serge blocks and alters many shots.”

The Thunder may be the league’s highest scoring team, but from hearing defensive minded players like Thabo Sefolosha talk after the game, it’s clear the locker room is at its happiest after a staunch defensive showing like the one tonight. The team was pleased with the outcome and the process as well, which started with a defensive mindset, continued with proper execution and communication, and finished with a hard-fought, well-rounded win.

“We were talking out there on the court,” Sefolosha said. “It started with the defense for us. We have a talented team offensively, a lot of guys that can do different things offensively, but when we play this way defensively I think we are really tough to match.”

Turning Point:
The Thunder led 27-20 with 8:32 remaining in the second quarter when it went on a 19-7 run that broke the game open. It started with a steal by Nick Collison that led to a ferocious Russell Westbrook fast break dunk and continued with four Kevin Durant free throws. After that, Durant hit a three-pointer, Serge Ibaka snagged an offensive rebound and knocked down two foul shots. Durant hit two more free throws then sent Westbrook a fast break pass for a layup. Thabo Sefolosha added a fast break layup of his own, then Westbrook chipped in two more free throws to put the Thunder up 46-27 with 2:00 left in the half. The Thunder’s lead never dipped below 10 again.

Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Perkins sticks with Luol Deng for an entire possession and gives him no room to operate, eventually blocking his shot. Toughness by Ibaka under the basket to snag an offensive rebound and put it back. Another great possession on defense by Perkins to force Carlos Boozer into a difficult missed shot. Great defensive rotation by Ibaka to be in position to make a play. Nice position on the boards by Hasheem Thabeet to draw a foul.

Plays the box score won't show, second half:
Insane one-handed rebound by Westbrook that he pulled down on the defensive end. Perkins, Ibaka and Durant all battle for a defensive board and wrestle it away from two Bulls players. Beautiful backdoor pass from Perkins to Westbrook for a dunk, then Durant smartly drops off a pass to Sefolosha in transition for a three. Martin does a great job of chasing Rip Hamilton around screens. Collison dives and grabs a loose ball off the floor, kicking it to Ibaka to get a shot off in time to beat the shot clock.

“We have to use our athleticism and our ability to score, but we can’t forget about the defensive end... Defensively, tonight, there are no complaints. We played lock down defense, we got rebounds and we contested and made a lot of shots miss.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks