In the midst of everything else Paul George did in the first half, he took the time to put his body on the line for a thankless play when it comes to the stat sheet. George rushed to the top of the key towards a waiting Dennis Schröder like he’s done hundreds of times this season, but instead of slipping the screen to pop out for a three-pointer, George planted himself at the free throw line and set a full-bodied screen to free Schröder for a simple driving layup.
The physicality, coordination and focus on display there was pervasive through the Thunder’s very professional handling of the Chicago Bulls in a 121-96 victory to close out a quick sweep of a two-game, three-day home stand in between west coast road trips.
“When we’re worried about ourselves and our team and not worried about what the other team is doing, it’s tough to beat us,” Russell Westbrook said. “My job is to make sure that we’re all on the same page, we’re all in tune on offense and defense and we play at a level that is at our standards and not nobody else’s.”
“We just played to our identity, played our style, our brand of basketball and that got us through tonight,” George said.
Watch: Game Highlights
The first quarter was a fight for dominance in the paint, as the Thunder attempted 20 field goals in the paint over the first 12 minutes alone. The Bulls racked up 12 points in the paint in the first five minutes only to be held to two points in the lane for the remained of the quarter. Oklahoma City’s defense tightened up after that and eventually forced Chicago into 25 turnovers that led directly to 24 points, which helped boost the Thunder’s 27-9 advantage in fast-break points.
“Five guys defending, having each other’s back, taking pride in defending your matchup,” Westbrook said.
“We just did a great job of playing defense, getting stops so we can get out in transition and make the game easy for us,” forward Jerami Grant said.
All that easy offense led to 48.3 percent shooting from the field, and the Thunder helped itself by going 27-of-33 (81.8 percent) from the free throw line. George was the catalyst offensively in the first half, scoring 16 of his 24 points during a dazzling second quarter flurry. By making three three-pointers and making all six of his field goals, George’s burst ignited a 20-5 run that broke the game in the Thunder’s control for good.
“I know when I’m in a good rhythm and it just comes down to repetition, whether it’s footwork, whether it’s lining up myself for the shot. Everything does slow down a little bit,” George said, explaining the zone he was in during the seven minutes he played in the second.
Another defining sequence came midway through the third quarter, when Russell Westbrook posted up Bulls guard Ryan Archidiacono on the left block. Bulls Head Coach Jim Boylan yelled out “Pull over!” to Robin Lopez, who obliged but left a gaping hole in the middle of the paint. Westbrook and Steven Adams, hearing the call clear as day, engaged their gears in an instant, as Adams flashed to the rim and Westbrook fired a pass before the window closed. An easy bucket for Adams, who finished with 19 total points, and an academic assist for Westbrook who racked up his 111th career triple-double with 13 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists.
One more crucial moment that the Thunder prevailed from was a dust up with 4:27 to go in the third quarter when Westbrook tried to set an off-ball screen on Kris Dunn, who then shoved Westbrook in the chest. Westbrook backed away but his teammates rushed to his defense to just get in the way. Lopez got into the face of Jerami Grant and all of the sudden both teams were in a mush.
It all quieted after that for the most part, though Lopez eventually picked up a second technical and was ejected. What was important about the sequence is that it didn’t derail the Thunder over the remaining 16 minutes of action. Typically those types of emotional moments can be game changers one way or the other, but the Thunder just carried on and closed out the fourth without even needing most of its starters to return.
After struggling to break away in the second quarter, the Thunder’s reserves played with precision to start the fourth quarter, getting fast break dunks from Hamidou Diallo and Patrick Patterson that broke the lead open to 26 points at 107-81 with 6:13 to go. For the game, the Thunder’s bench shot 16-of-29 from the field, aided by three assists each by Schröder and Patterson.
Oklahoma City is now 7-0 when six-or-more players score in double figures, as George (24), Westbrook (13), Adams (19), Schröder (18), Grant (13) and Diallo (10) all got there. From there on out the Thunder cruised to the finish line, racking up its 12th win in 15 games at Chesapeake Energy Arena to head out to Sacramento standing at 19-10 on the season.
“Just finding the open guy. Whoever is open, making the right play,” said Westbrook. “Regardless of who scores it, we score.”