Zach LaVine, big third quarter propel Bulls over Thunder

Zach LaVine scored half of his 40-point total in the third quarter.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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Led by Zach LaVine's efficient 40-point performance, Chicago put away the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-102 for a second-straight victory. After blowing an 18-point first-half lead, Chicago outscored OKC 31-16 in the third quarter to pull away for good. The Bulls (18-20) play again on Wednesday night, hosting the San Antonio Spurs (20-16) at the United Center

The Bulls, Tuesday, had Zach LaVine. The Oklahoma Thunder didn't. On to play the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

There really wasn't much more to say about the Bulls 123-102 victory over the Thunder who—wink, wink—really are trying to win NBA games.

We know there are no one-man teams in the NBA even if we saw in Michael Jordan as close as a team can get to that, especially before the Bulls 1990s championship run. And Lauri Markkanen with 22 points had his third game scoring at least 20 points in his four since his return from injury. And new starters Thad Young with 17 points and Tomas Satoransky with 13 again led with a combined 13 of the team's 24 assists, though Wendell Carter Jr. was back starting the second half.

There was lots of stuff, and a pretty impressive one by Markkanen over Thunder center Moses Brown that probably was the worst thing that happened to Moses since he was barred from the Promised Land.

Highlights from Chicago's blow out victory over Oklahoma City.

But this special place for the Bulls was the third quarter when LaVine outscored, outshot and out produced the entire Thunder team, 20 third quarter points among his 40 in 31 minutes on 15 of 20 shooting with seven of 12 threes. It was LaVine's 12th game scoring at least 40 points as a Bull, third behind Jordan and Bob Love, the latter with 13. It was the league-leading fourth time LaVine's scored at least 20 points in a quarter while he is third in the league in most games scoring at least 35 points.

That third quarter show was after the Thunder actually grabbed a one-point lead in erasing an 18-point second quarter deficit. The Bulls eased back ahead 71-63 at halftime, though they were unable to control the heralded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 17 points and eight of 11 shooting in the half.

So while LaVine was outscoring the entire Thunder team in that third quarter, he also shut down the Thunder's only player, Gilgeous-Alexander, who either wasn't a low draft choice, undrafted or recently in the G-league. Talk about a player milking the offense and playing a honey of defense. With Zach perhaps the journey is just beginning.

"The guy was unbelievable," agreed Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "He scored 40 points in 30 minutes. He was terrific. He was seven of 11 in the first half and had 20 points. And I thought he was way better in the third quarter than he was in the first half, and he had 20 in the first half.

Billy Donovan spoke to the media following Chicago's win over OKC.

"He asked to come out of that game in that third quarter because I think he exhausted himself," Donovan revealed about LaVine's 93 seconds of rest. "He was guarding Shai and he was playing so aggressively (Gilgeous-Alexander was two of six for four points in 12 minutes). He was terrific, he was amazing, efficient. And blew the game open. We were up by 15 or 16, they took the lead, we went into the locker room I think up eight. And all Zach was talking about was coming out in the third quarter and establishing an intensity level. I think he really led by example. So much to the fact he exhausted himself that first five or six minutes in that third quarter. He guarded at an incredibly high level and he was unbelievably efficient on offense. He was spectacular."

And that, folks, was your game.

The Bulls were leading 102-79 by the end of the third quarter and quickly began resting players for the Spurs and the back to back. And now it's consecutive wins, albeit over decimated rosters, after those two brutal post All-Star break losses. The Bulls now are 18-20 and ninth in the Eastern Conference.

Though both the Raptors and Thunder were missing numerous players, that's also part of the script for all teams in this Covid virus avoidance season. The Bulls have had their share of absences with Garrett Temple out now with a sprained ankle. Though some teams, like the Thunder, seem to be taking their turn eying the draft. The Thunder has some veterans, like Al Horford, George Hill and Trevor Ariza. None play and don't seem even to be with the team. It's sadly becoming fairly common in the NBA. The Spurs, for example, sent home their best player, LaMarcus Aldridge, to wait for a new address. Gilgeous-Alexander is a brilliant talent, but if you didn't watch the G-league you wouldn't know much of their roster. No way Shaq or Barkley could tell you where half their guys play.

Though, the Thunder actually deserve a lot of credit at 17-23 since it's difficult to believe they've won five games with whom they play. For example, it appeared their entire front line combined didn't weigh as much as Zion Williamson.

Brown, who has spent most of the past two seasons in the G-league and made his first NBA start last week, actually was impressive with 20 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. He even drove Young to the bench to start the second half. Donovan said he went back to Carter to start the half to get a bit more size and heft into Brown. It still wasn't quite enough as Brown had three second half blocks pogo sticking around.

Which also made him the poster child for Markkanen's poster dunk of perhaps his career, a drive into and through Brown in the first quarter when the Bulls efficiently took a double digit lead in the first five minutes. They led 42-28 after one quarter shooting 64 percent with a half dozen threes made.

"We played with great pace today," said Satoransky. "I think it (also) really helps, that presence of Thad (starting). We kind of rely on him to give us the patience, the confidence; he makes you better with his vision. So every time we have tough times we go to him when he's opening up on top of the key. We try to cut over him. I think it's a good mix, him (LaVine) and Lauri. We are able to really run the floor, which we did from the beginning today."

Thad Young

Thad Young rises up for a big tomahawk jam in the second quarter vs OKC.

Markkanen, particularly, has continued to show more life since his return from the shoulder injury. Scoring more than 20 while LaVine was getting 40 seemed like something of a breakthrough as critics often complained they could not complement one another. Markkanen also was a plus-25 while LaVine as a remarkable plus-36.

"You want to get involved your two best scorers," said Satoransky. "We did that tonight. That gives confidence to everybody. It opens up a lot for you as well, for the other players. We didn't have that last year that many times where they both had it going. So it's important that they keep doing that this year."

It's seemed LaVine has been able to do just about everything, including the defense as Gilgeous-Alexander was lighting up rookie Patrick Williams. LaVine while defending Gilgeous-Alexander in that third quarter also scored the first six points to give the Bulls a 14-point lead and that breathing room. And then later in the quarter, he had five consecutive Bulls scores with a trio of three-point shots sandwiching a three-point play. Talk about appetizing. That made it Bulls by 20 in chewing up the Thunder and waiting for Pop to perhaps wash it down.

"I just think we've been playing with a little bit more pace and urgency," said LaVine. "The last couple of games, I think we came out a lot more aggressive with some more continuity. I just wanted to come out and give us a good push. Last time, obviously we were up a lot and they came back and beat us."

Zach LaVine dropped 40 points on an efficient 15-of-20 shooting in the win over Oklahoma City.

That was the disastrous 22-point Oklahoma City comeback in a Thunder overtime win when the Thunder's average age of the starters wasn't 20, as it was Tuesday.

"I think we owed them one," said LaVine. "I wanted to try to help put the game away. Obviously, I want to try to do it on both ends of the floor. I see myself as that. So sometimes you got to try to go and show it."

These Bulls also have shown they could lose to fragmentary fives.

But it seems like a more serious time with the lineup changes.

"I think it showed me we're definitely trying to win," said LaVine. "That's something big for us. I don't think it was anybody's fault, like coach said. I just think it was something that needed to happen. We needed to make some shifts. Coby and Wendell, they responded extremely well to it. I think they're all about winning. We know how good those guys are and how good they're going to be. But it was good. I think having those (veteran) guys in our lineup gives us a more experienced group that's starting. And it gives them an easier job on the second unit to come in and get their rhythm."

And then if they can't, just call Zach. This time there wasn't any Thunder once Zach provided the lightning.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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