Keys to the Game: Bulls at Thunder (11.15.17)

Tonight the Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder close-out their season series at Chesapeake Energy Arena located in the heart of Tornado Alley.

The Thunder literally stampeded its way to a 101-69 victory the last time these two met back on October 28th at the United Center. Six-time All-Star Russell Westbrook recorded his first triple-double against the Bulls, notching 12 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists. Fellow OKC All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George also produced strong efforts, shooting a combined 15-of-31 (48.4%) from the field and 9-of-14 (64.3%) from beyond the arc in scoring 21 and 20 points, respectively. Thunder big man Steven Adams also enjoyed a big night, shooting 6-of-10 (60.0%) from the field and corralling 5 offensive rebounds (8 overall). Rookie Lauri Markkanen was the only bright spot for the Bulls as he led Chicago in scoring with 15 points in 28 minutes of action. As a team Chicago shot just 28.8% from the field (22-of-78), and saw the Thunder out-assist (28/16) and out-rebound (52/47) them. The Thunder also collected 16 steals to Chicago’s 9 and forced the Bulls into committing 19 turnovers.

Offensively the Thunder like to play inside/out, as they often first look to drive the ball deep into the paint in an effort to overpower opponents, while at the same time they always station a couple of shooters out on the perimeter as safety valves just in case the opponent is able to clog the middle. Collectively OKC also does an outstanding job of crashing the defensive boards in order to ignite an explosive run-and-gun transition game. The aforementioned Adams oftentimes sparks OKC’s fastbreak by grabbing the ball off-the-rim and hitting Westbrook and/or George on the fly as they streak to the other end of the court. Chicago’s big men, namely Robin Lopez, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio will have to match Adam’s physicality on the glass in order to slow down the Thunder.

Westbrook is without a doubt one of the most exciting players in the game today. Last season he was the first to average a triple-double (31.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds) since Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson achieved the feat in 1962. So far this season he is still putting up impressive numbers, averaging 20.2 points, 9.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds, while Anthony contributes 20.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, and George adds 22.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists as well as 2.5 steals over 36 minutes a game.

In order to counter OKC’s firepower the Bulls’ team defense cannot afford many mental breakdowns. Collectively they’ll need to keep their poise when OKC turns up the heat and not back down from getting physical themselves.

Offensively, Chicago has proven to be effective when they push the ball up the floor and persistently keep it jumping from player-to-player and from side-to-side. For the Bulls’ offense to click, the ball has to hop and not end up glued onto anyone’s hands for long stretches. Every player has to be engaged in the action.

To that end the Bulls will need to spread out to effectively space the floor while constantly eye opportunities to attack the basket in hopes of forcing OKC’s defense into scrambling and fouling. Much like the Thunder, Chicago’s guards need to stay proactive by persistently driving the ball deep into the paint in order to create their own chaos

In short, the Bulls have to come out of the gates fast and strong at both ends of the floor. At no time can they afford to slow the pace of the game down. A primary key each and every night is to gain control of the boards. So far this season the Bulls have had a great deal of trouble putting points on the board, as they’re dead last in scoring (93.6) and shooting (40.9). Thus in order to have a chance this evening the Bulls will need to outwork OKC on the glass as doing so can lead to a number of easy transition buckets.

Generally the Bulls would like to take anywhere between 87 to 90 shots a game, with at least 30 or more coming from beyond the arc. In order to get good looks at the basket the ball has to be shared freely by everyone on the floor.

From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Chicago has to sport a determined attitude, and commit to outworking and outhustling the Thunder in every way imaginable.