Game Recap: Thunder 124, Bulls 122
Over the first eight minutes, it looked like the Thunder would cruise to victory. The Bulls turned it on and got hot, the Thunder reeled and OKC found itself in familiar territory – a dog fight in crunch time. Once again, the Thunder pulled through in the clutch.
The first possession of the game was a simple pick and roll. Chicago played it aggressive per usual, trapping up top. Chris Paul found Steven Adams darting to the rim for a monster dunk. Easy enough.
After gutting the middle of the defense, it was time for the Thunder to pick things apart on the perimeter. Danilo Gallinari was just the man for the job. On some swing-swing passes around the perimeter, some kickouts after the ball hit the paint and some skip passes too, Gallinari continually found himself in target practice. He knocked down five three pointers in the first 6:06 of the game and scored 19 of his team-high 24 points in the first quarter as the Thunder spurted out to a 20-4 lead.
“We were just moving the ball and my teammates were finding me at the right time,” Gallianri said. “It was just ball movement and good rhythm.”
Smart money would have said that the Thunder’s 25-8 lead would be safe, but Chicago chipped away with a 16-4 burst to close the quarter, led by rookie Coby White. The Thunder responded with yet another 20-4 run behind some more three-pointers – 11 total for the team in the first 17 minutes of play. Abdel Nader and Terrance Ferguson got in on the fun, with the latter scoring all 11 of his points in the second quarter, on a pair of free throws and a trio of threes.
The Thunder’s lead reached crescendo at 62-38, a 24-point edge, with 4:43 remaining before halftime. Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club started to feel safe, and coming out of halftime, it played like it. What had previously been an offense that manipulated Chicago’s aggressiveness stagnated into tough step-back jumpers and turnovers – five of them in the quarter – and the Bulls used that open window for a full-scale scoreboard invasion.
“The Bulls’ physicality in the third quarter disrupted our flow,” said Donovan. “It’s hard playing on the road. It was great to see our guys weather it like they did and find a way to win coming down the stretch.”
White and Zach LaVine, the two Bulls’ offensive conduits, attacked relentlessly and hunted jump shots, with White knocking down 4 threes after halftime for 19 second half points while LaVine scored an incredible 27 after the break, on 12-of-20 shooting. The result was a 23-5 run in the third and a blown lead by the Thunder, who got outscored 38-19 in the period and went into the final frame trailing 93-91.
For the first 11 minutes of the fourth quarter, the lead never reached higher than 3 points for either squad, even as the Thunder worked the side pick and roll with Steven Adams for a pair of buckets inside of 5 minutes. First it was Dennis Schröder finding Adams, then Paul posted up on the left wing, called Adams over for a screen and rifled a pass to him for a reverse layup.
“Putting the ball on the sideline allowed the guards to see where the help was coming from,” said Donovan. “We were able to get Steven on some rolls and get it to him late.”
With under a minute to go the Thunder’s lead crept up to 6 points thanks to some timely free throws. In fact, OKC scored its final 7 points of the game at the free throw line, where it held a Thunder season-high plus-26 advantage in attempts. Still, the Thunder had to fend off the ever-relentless LaVine and White, who kept putting pressure on OKC’s defense.
“We did a great job of responding, staying together and knocking down free throws,” said Schröder.
White found LaVine for a step-back three with 23.2 seconds to go, then after one free throw from Gilgeous-Alexander, Lavine came charging across halfcourt, pulling up from the horn on the Bulls logo near mid-court for what was officially ruled as a 32-foot three-pointer, a solid eight feet behind the three-point line, though it felt much further.
This time it was Paul who stepped up to the free throw line, knocking down both shots. Paul guarded LaVine on the next two trips down court, forcing a missed three with 8.8 seconds to go. Then, with under 3 seconds remaining on a sideline out of bounds play and a slim two-point lead, Paul hurried LaVine into a heaved three as he faded left and the ball went awry, sealing yet another clutch-time win. It was the 14th Thunder win when trailing to start the fourth quarter, a league-high.
“I might not be able to guard him all game long, but down the stretch, I always want the opportunity to guard those guys,” said Paul.
Play of the Game
Before the final sequence, it was a baseline drive by Gallinari for a monster two-handed dunk that put the Thunder up by one with 1:39 to go. Schröder then took on the responsibility of manning-up one on one against LaVine, who went nuts for 41 points in the game on 35 shot attempts. Schröder got himself square, picked up his feet and stayed in front of LaVine on a drive, taking a shoulder right in the chest and bowling over backwards into the lane.
“It was a huge play,” Paul reviewed.
The call was a charge against LaVine, and it was a crucial moment in the flow of the final two minutes. After the lead had changed hands 13 times in the fourth quarter up to that point, the Thunder’s defensive stand with 1:23 to go opened the door for a Chris Paul running push shot, that edged a one-point advantage into a 117-114 lead with 1:03 remaining. That one extra possession created by Schröder was all the cushion the Thunder needed.
Stat of the Night9
Consecutive wins for the Thunder on the road, an OKC record. The Thunder has lost just one road game since Christmas and has rattled off victories against Brooklyn, Minnesota twice, Houston, Orlando, Sacramento, Phoenix, New Orleans and now Chicago as it has ramped up its overall road record to 17-10. The Thunder has 14 more road games to play this season in its final 24 contests and is continuing to build the type of habits that lend themselves to gutting out victories away from home.
“We have a strong enough bond that we know when we’re on the road we really have to be tied together,” said Paul. “Our home court is amazing. Our fans are unbelievable at home. But it’s nice to be able to take your game on the road.”
Quotes of the Night
“Once we’re up by 20, we need to play like we want to go up by 40.” –Danilo Gallinari
“It’s a feeling that you get when you’re winning, when you have a winning record and you have teammates that know how to close games.” –Danilo Gallinari
“We’re working every single day, keeping everybody accountable, working hard and respecting each other.” –Dennis Schröder
Dennis > Nerlens. Rinse. Repeat. pic.twitter.com/SvVAmZKkdr— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 26, 2020
The Thunder (36-22) will have the day off on Wednesday before jumping into a home-road back to back to close out the month of February. OKC is 6-2 during the month and riding a four-game win streak as it gets ready to host the Sacramento Kings on Thursday before flying back up north to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks, who have the best record in the NBA, on Friday.