Game Recap: Thunder 97, Bulls 91

Following last night’s home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell wrote that the Bulls miss Derrick Rose’s finishing touch.

It’s a reasonable conclusion to come to, especially after watching Kevin Durant (24 points, 11-for-19, 4 rebounds) rip off 8 critical points in the final 3:16, a scoring spree that included two exceptionally high-degree-of-difficulty jump shots in the final minute .

Meanwhile, minus their superstar scorer/playmaker, the Bulls’ crunch time possessions (final five minutes) went as follows. Successful plays are in bold.

4:54: Taj Gibson turnover
4:37: Kirk Hinrich missed 21-footer
4:16: Richard Hamilton 2-for-2 from the line
3:46: Luol Deng missed three-pointer
3:31: Kirk Hinrich missed 23-footer
3:30: Joakim Noah offensive rebound and missed tip shot
2:55: Noah missed hook shot (blocked by Serge Ibaka)
2:51: Hamilton made 22-footer
2:18: Noah missed 18-footer
1:47: Deng turnover
1:08: Hamilton missed 19-footer
0:35: Gibson made 20-footer
0:15: Noah made layup
0:03: Vladimir Radmanovic missed three-pointer
0:01: Richard Hamilton missed 17-footer

In case you didn’t notice, Chicago’s clutch plays included an awful lot of long jumpers. Oklahoma City’s defense forced them outside. Two attempts to get a closer look ended in a blocked shot (when Noah attempted a hook with 2:55 to go) and a turnover (when Deng drove awkwardly into traffic and got the ball stripped by Thabo Sefolosha with 1:47 on the clock).

And, yeah, Noah made a layup with 15 seconds left, but that was one of those end-of-game concession baskets.

To me, Chicago’s end-of-game scoring issues were epitomized by this play: With 2:18 left and the score tied 87-87, Noah launched a baseline jumper from 18 feet.

Was Noah open? Yes.

Was that really the shot the Bulls wanted from that possession? Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong. Noah can hit that shot. But it’s not his shot.

Look, I know that Durant hit some really tough clutch shots, but it’s also true that the Bulls 1) weren’t drawing fouls and 2) couldn’t get anything going toward the basket in the final five minutes. And the former was largely due to the latter.

OKC’s defense and the absence of Rose both played a part in that. But it’s not wholly (and simply) an issue of “the Bulls didn’t have a finisher.”

In fact, there were two factors in this loss much bigger than Durant and Rose.

The first factor was turnovers. The Bulls lost the ball 21 times for a total of 20 points going the other way.

Of course, the Thunder had 22 turnovers that were converted into 19 points for the Bulls, so some people might say that category was a wash. But I say that, when playing a superior team, the lesser team absolutely must take care of the basketball because there is almost no margin for error.

Said Noah: “We turned the ball over too much. It was a frustrating loss. We really had a chance to win this game. They’re obviously very talented, but a couple of our shots down the stretch just went in and out. Overall, I felt we played hard, but those turnovers definitely haunted us.”

Did they ever.

The other factor was, frankly, poor bench play. Let’s look at Chicago’s plus-minus numbers:

Bulls starters:
Richard Hamilton: +9
Joakim Noah: +5
Carlos Boozer: +4
Kirk Hinrich: +3
Luol Deng: -2

Bulls bench:
Marco Belinelli: -18
Taj Gibson: -12
Nate Robinson: -9
Nazr Mohammed: -5
Vladimir Radmanovic: -4
Jimmy Butler: -1

Now let’s look at Oklahoma City’s plus-minus stats:

Thunder starters:
Kendrick Perkins: -14
Russell Westbrook: -4
Kevin Durant: -3
Serge Ibaka: -2
Thabo Sefolosha: +13

Thunder bench:
Nick Collison: +15
Eric Maynor: +10
Kevin Martin: +10
Hasheem Thabeet: +5

Despite his clutch performance, the Thunder were outscored when Durant was on the floor. Ditto for Westbrook (16 points, 12 assists, 2 reboundss) and Serge Ibaka (21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks). And of course Kendrick Perkins (5 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 0 points) was dreadful.

Meanwhile, the Bulls starting unit — minus Deng — were all on the plus side of the ledger. Even Boozer, who shot poorly (3-for-9), committed 5 turnovers, and had several defensive slips.

The fact remains that, in terms of plus-minus, Chicago’s starters outperformed their Oklahoma City counterparts (the exceptions being Deng and Sefolosha), while OKC’s bench vastly outperformed the Bulls’ reserves in terms of points (29-14), rebounds (11-5) and plus-minus (+40 to -49).

So, Durant’s greatness aside, the Bulls could have won this game had they taken better car of the ball and/or gotten a little better production out of their bench.

Or, heck, done a better job putting some D on OKC’s reserves. Martin (15 points, 3-for-5 from the field, 1-for-1 on threes, 8-for-9 from the line) and Maynor (10 points, 2-for-4, 1-for-1 on threes, 5-for-5 from the line) had incredibly efficient scoring nights, with True Shooting Percentages of 83.7 and 80.6, respectively.

That said, I suppose you could list defense as a factor two, considering the Thunder finished with an Offensive Rating of 101.5 and an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 52.7, both higher than the Bulls’ opponent season averages of 96.4 and 46.9.

Or maybe it’s a combination of all these things: The clutchness of Durant, the absence of Rose, turnovers, lack of bench production and defense.

But on the bright side, despite the several things that didn’t go their way, the Bulls stood up to one of the league’s elite teams and nearly beat them without Rose.

Said Deng: “No one has to change the way they play. We just got to keep playing. … We’re right there in the game. We got to have a better fourth. That’s what we normally do, and that’s what we got to get back to.”

Bulls Player of the Game:
It was very clearly Deng, who had game-highs in minutes (42) and points (27), in addition to good shooting (11-for-21 overall, 3-for-6 on threes, 2-for-2 from the line).

Bulls goat of the game:
Marco Belinelli played six minutes. The Bulls were outscored by 18 points during those six minutes. And although that’s obviously not all on Belinelli, I’m already coming to associate his presence on the floor with bad things happening for the Bulls. He’s like the anti-Kyle Korver.

Good sign:
Hinrich had a reasonably strong game (12 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds) and helped harass Westbrook into a 7-for-22 shooting night. What’s more, Captain Kirk drew fouls on two aggressive drives in which the refs should have called continuation but didn’t.

Bad sign:
Deng sprained his left thumb during the fourth quarter.

More key stats:
Yes, there are plenty of key stats above. Here are two more: The Bulls were outscored 31-19 in the fourth quarter and 46-34 in the paint.

Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.

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4 Responses to Game Recap: Thunder 97, Bulls 91

    Slap Dog Hoops November 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    I could have told you that Belinelli was no good to begin with. can’t believe Paxson though he could fill in Kyle Korver’s void. Granted, Korver was not anybody really special, but he proved to be much more effective that Belly would ever be in his time in Chicago.

    Matthias November 10, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    The reason for Dengs -2 might be his extended playingtime with the bench Mob sub zero. His really good performance was mir or less compensated by those teammates playing ähmm otherwordly.

  3. Fan Man November 10, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    This team showed what is. They’re a good, not great, squad. They certainly don’t have the talent to go toe to toe with a really good team like the Thunder. What you have here is a blueprint for how this season without Rose is going to go.

    -Deng’s going to play a zillion minutes and it’ll be a miracle if he doesn’t get hurt again.

    -Boozer will put up numbers that leave his few supporters quoting advanced metrics to try to convince the rest of us that he isn’t a pile of hot garbage who goes entire games without doing anything offensively or defensively.

    -The “bench mob 2.0” will prove itself to be a huge collection of has-beens and never-weres who mostly, but not always, are a complete liability.

    -The offense will struggle mightily to put any points on the board against teams that aren’t terrible.

  4. Sky-Hi Hook November 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    slapdog, your crazy, bellineli is a good if not decent player. and his defense is light years ahead of korvers. if we’re only worrying about his offense now, thats a good sign.

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