The worst feeling in sports on any level is losing a game you know you could’ve won, that the other team didn’t beat you, you beat yourself.
That’s the way the Chicago Bulls probably felt after Thursday night’s 97-91 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. After struggling with teams they were clearly better than, most thought OKC would come into the United Center and blow the Bulls out.
But Chicago stepped up to the challenge and held their own against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In the end, though, the Thunder were able to come away with the victory because of their two superstars, while the Bulls really could have used Derrick Rose in this game.
Chicago competed from the start of the game to the very end. They didn’t back down from the Thunder and met the challenge of facing off with one of the NBA’s most elite squads. Kirk Hinrich (12 points, five assists) and Rip Hamilton (20 points, eight rebounds) seemed to break out of the funk that they’d been in for the last two games and played exceptionally well. Luol Deng (27 points) led the team from an offensive standpoint and although it wasn’t his best game, Carlos Boozer (9 points, 11 rebounds) contributed as well. All around, the play of the starters as a unit was better than it has been all season.
Turnovers really hurt the Bulls against the Thunder, especially down the stretch. As a team, Chicago had 20 turnovers, 17 of those coming from the starters with Boozer accounting for five and Joakim and Rip tallying four each. Against a team like Oklahoma City who can turn turnovers into points in a hurry, they needed to take better care of the ball. The Thunder also dominated the points in the paint against the Bulls to the tune of 46-34. Chicago also couldn't contain Serge Ibaka who burned them for 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
The play of the Bench had been outstanding the last two games, but on Thursday night, they just didn’t have it. As a group the reserves were just 5-19 and scored a combined 14 points. Compare that to the Thunder who got 29 points from their bench, mostly behind the play of Kevin Martin (15 points) and Eric Maynor (10 points). The turning point for the Bulls came with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 87, Kirk Hinrich crossed over Westbrook at the top of the key and had a clear lane to the basket. But instead of attacking the rim, he dished it off to Noah for an 18-foot jump shot. Joakim missed, OKC got the rebound, and Kevin Durant went on to close the Bulls out and secure the win.