Bulls fall to Thunder

The Bulls Wednesday were overwhelmed once again by a flash of basketball lightning from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 92-79 loss.

Oklahoma City dominated from the start just as they had in defeating the Bulls 101-69 last month in the United Center. This time the Thunder held the Bulls to a near record low seven first quarter points in taking a 20-point lead after one quarter and maintaining a similar margin for the rest of the game.

The Bulls were led by Lauri Markkanen and Antonio Blakeney with 16 points each. Blakeney was three of six on threes in his first significant NBA action after previously playing just one minute. Denzel Valentine had 13 points.

Kris Dunn scored his first basket midway through the fourth quarter on a three after starting zero for nine. He and Jerian Grant were a combined two of 16. They combined for six assists and six turnovers. The starters other than Markkanen were a combined four of 26 shooting. Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City with 21 points. Carmelo Anthony had 18 and Paul George 13. Jerami Grant had 15 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

The Bulls are 2-10. Oklahoma City is 7-7.

The Bulls were without Justin Holiday. He missed the trip following the birth of his first child. He is expected to play Friday against Charlotte in the United Center. David Nwaba remained out with his sprained ankle. Steven Adams was out for the Thunder. The Bulls started Dunn with Grant in the backcourt and Quincy Pondexter at small forward with Holiday out. But it was another desolate start for the Bulls in a series of slow starts. The Thunder scored the first four points before a Markkanen three and then sprinted out to a 22-6 lead that effectively put the Bulls put of the game. The Thunder is one of the league’s best defensive teams. Their pressure was stultifying for the Bulls as the Bulls committed eight first quarter turnovers against the pressure and trapping that included three shot clock violations. The Thunder took an overwhelming 27-7 lead after the first quarter, the second consecutive game the Bulls trailed by at least 20 points after one quarter. The seven points was one more than the franchise quarter low and lowest ever for a first quarter. Valentine gave the Bulls a bit of hope with a pair of threes early in the second quarter as the Bulls nibbled the Oklahoma City lead down to 32-17. But then Russell Westbrook took charge. He scored 12 of Oklahoma City’s 13 points in a 15-6 run that gave the Thunder a 49-23 lead with 3:39 left in the first half. He had 17 in the second quarter. He had four steals in the first half and the Bulls had three. Westbrook had three dunks in that run, blowing by Dunn on a straight line drive, beating Robin Lopez after a switch and then stealing a soft inbounds pass form Pondexter for a three-point play. Westbrook was too quick and powerful for Dunn on defense. The Thunder went on to claim a 58-34 halftime lead that included the indignity of an inbounds pass for a Thunder score with a second left in the half. The Bulls shot 31.4 percent in the first half with the starters five for 20. The reserves scored 18 of the 34 points. Blakeney up from the G-league had four at the half.

The Bulls started Valentine for Grant in the second half and did get a 5-0 start. The Bulls weren't digging into the lead much, but they finally were playing more aggressively, especially on defense. The Thunder’s pressuring and help tactics on offense were overwhelming since the Bulls lack dribble penetration on offense. But Markkanen did have a driving power dunk after a steal and the Bulls hung in, trailing 64-44 midway through the third quarter. The Bulls took to taking longer threes with the Thunder pressuring. Markkanen took a hard fall being fouled on an inbounds pass with about three minutes left in the third quarter after scoring eight points in the quarter. Markkanen then left the game, but returned in the fourth quarter. The Bulls were within 77-56 after three quarters.