Despite erasing an 18-point deficit in the second quarter, the Thunder was not able to keep pace with the sharpshooting of the Bulls and Zach LaVine. It was a career night for Thunder two-way center Moses Brown who posted his fourth consecutive night of career-high scoring.
On the heels of its fifth largest comeback of the season, the Thunder tipped off against the team that it defeated in January for its largest comeback win of the year – the Chicago Bulls. In that January game, the Thunder overcame a looming 22-point deficit to win in overtime by two points. Midway through the second quarter on Tuesday, it seemed that history might repeat itself.
The Bulls were counting by threes as they cashed in six early triples at a 50-percent clip and shot at 64 percent from the field. Zach LaVine led the way with 16 first quarter points to boost the Bulls to an early 42-28 lead. By the opening minutes of the second quarter, Chicago had built up a lead of 18 points and were looking to put the game away early.
The Thunder’s second unit lineup of Kenrich Williams, Justin Jackson, Ty Jerome and Justin Jackson had other plans.
The second unit sparked what would be a 22-3 Thunder run midway through the quarter to not only eliminate the deficit but take a lead thanks to a 3-pointer by Williams. The Thunder outscored Chicago 35-29 in the frame.
Williams was an active contributor for the Thunder in the run as he went on a burst of five straight points with assists from Jerome. The surge was punctuated by a picturesque one-handed bounce pass from Jerome to a cutting Williams for an easy layup. Williams would finish the night with 14 points off the bench to go alongside five rebounds and four assists.
“[Williams] a guy you could plug in so many different lineups because he does the little things that everything needs to win,” said Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“Just playing hard and playing together. That's what the emphasis is every game,” said Thunder wing Kenrich Williams on what led to the furious comeback. “We just want to be consistent with our effort and playing the whole 48 minutes. That's what a pretty much what it was.”
Moses Brown may not have been in the second unit for the Thunder on Tuesday as he recorded his second-consecutive career start, but his effort and energy played a massive role in the Thunder’s second quarter efforts. At the end of the first quarter, Brown had already grabbed four offensive rebounds and notched five total boards; by halftime, the 7-foot-2 center logged a double-double with 10 rebounds, six offensive rebounds and 14 points. Though the Thunder’s offense stagnated throughout the second half, the second-year big man finished with his fourth consecutive career-high performance with 20 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks making him just the second player in Thunder history to record 20+ points, 15+ rebounds and 5+ blocks.
“He's a factor down there. He creates space for us to penetrate and then if his man helps he's going to be loose on the glass,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “I thought tonight showed a pretty good indication of what he's capable of on the glass and in terms of finishing plays around the basket.”
“I just think it’s important for me to just stay active around the rim and just keep moving my feet,” said Brown.
The Thunder’s 12-point deficit at halftime ballooned to 23 going into the fourth. It was the Bulls’ 2021 All-Star in Zach LaVine who erupted out of half and posted 29 points in the third frame along. The Bulls’ leading scorer knocked down 3-of-4 from behind the arc and by the end of the night, LaVine led all scorers with 40 points on 15-of-20 from the field.
Meanwhile, the Thunder’s offense began to stagnate. After a furious push to generate 35 points in the second frame, the Thunder only delivered 39 total in the final two which allowed the Bulls to open up a series of consequential runs sparked by LaVine to keep the game out of reach.
“The second half I just thought we just didn't have the sharpness on offense,” said Daigneault. “I thought the thing tonight was we just didn't compete the way we need to for 48 minutes, starting with the beginning of the game. Just too many stretches where the juice that we've had coming out of the All-Star Break just wasn't the same tonight.”
Play of the Game
Moses Brown has found a home in the dunker’s spot on offensive end of the floor and has since been the recipient of some crafty passes that lead to dunks. For example, as the versatile Isaiah Roby drove the lane, Brown remained planted in the dunker’s spot, determined not to clog the lane for his teammate, but also ready in case his defender committed to Roby’s drive.
When the latter took place, Roby dropped off a two-handed, no look pass to Brown who was already loaded up to complete the play with an easy two-handed slam.
Stat of the Night3K
With his 21 points on Tuesday, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander recorded his 3,000th career point all in a matter of two and a half seasons. All 21 of SGA’s points were hard-earned as all but three came from inside of the paint on tough drives to the rim. All the while, the third-year guard was tasked with defending the Bulls’ best player on the other end of the floor in LaVine. The assignment to tag LaVine on defense and then make tough, high-level plays at the rim was not just a challenge of ability, but one of stamina and motor as well.
“The thing that I always give Shai credit for is no matter what you put in front of him and challenge him with, if he feels like it's going to make him a better player and help his team win now and in the future, he's going to take the challenge on,” said Daigneault. “I give him a lot of credit for that mindset and I think a lot of the success he's had this year is a result of it.”
Quotes of the Night
“I feel like tonight just wasn’t our night, and playing so many games, we'll have another opportunity, another crack at it. We'll be alright.”
–Shai Gilgeous-Alexander “They’re going to look at it, be self-reflective and we'll learn from it. We need to be a better team the next time we have an opportunity.
The next three matchups will be on the road for the Thunder as part of its four-game road trip. From the Windy City, OKC will have a day to practice before returning to action in Atlanta to take on the Hawks on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CT.