The Bulls Friday delivered a welcome gift to their fans—and their season hopes—with an impressive end to end 105-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It gave the Bulls a season sweep over the highly regarded Thunder and was the first game this season the Thunder never led. Oklahoma City, third in the West, fell to 6-8 against Eastern teams. The Bulls at 16-11 moved to fifth in the crowded Eastern Conference and broke a three-game losing streak. The Bulls play in Dallas Saturday.
Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 23 points and four steals. Pau Gasol had 21 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Derrick Rose had 19 points and Taj Gibson 13 points and 10 rebounds. Kevin Durant had 29 points and Russell Westbrook 26, but on nine of 23.
The Bulls began the first day of the rest of their next month without Joakim Noah, who has a shoulder injury. But the Bulls got a big start from their front court starters, Gasol and Gibson. Gibson was aggressive and physical on the offensive boards and a slam dunk on a lob from Gasol, who also connected with Butler in one of the Bulls most spirited first quarters of the season. They started the game 11-0 and Gibson and Gasol combined for 20 first quarter points. And then Butler put in a 35-foot shot put to end the first quarter with a 32-26 Bulls lead. Durant had a dozen.
The Bulls with the starters back in the second quarter looked like all coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about, Rose flying out of the backcourt with a rebound and Butler finishing Rose’s miss at the rim, Rose with a layup half dunk after a Butler steal, his league best 35th straight game with one and Butler with another dunk on a Gasol lob. It gave the Bulls a 51-37 lead. And quieted the home arena, though just for a bit as with some stagnant jump shooting and lazy passing the Thunder made into turnovers, Oklahoma City closed the half in a 15-3 rush to pull within 54-52 at halftime.
The Bulls nine first half turnovers turned into 18 Oklahoma City points. But the Bulls opened the third quarter as they did the first, dominating and this time behind three Rose baskets for an 8-0 start. The Thunder inched back behind Westbrook, who was being beaten badly by Rose. Oklahoma City got within 77-66 after a Durant three-point play. But an Aaron Brooks three kicked off a 9-2 Bulls close with a pair of Butler scores, the second after another Butler steal to give the Bulls an 86-68 lead after three quarters.
The Thunder then regained momentum with five straight points from Westbrook and Durant to open the fourth quarter with the Thunder within 93-79 with eight minutes left. The Thunder then came with some lightning with a pair of Anthony Morrow threes after Bulls mistakes to get within 97-89 with just under five minutes remaining.