The Thunder played without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Translation: Take this win with a grain of salt. Even by preseason standards.
Still…it felt good to see Carlos Boozer have another strong game (24 points, 11-for-20, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals).
In fact, the entire starting unit seemed to be really syncing up before Kirk Hinrich strained his groin in the second quarter. That that point, Captain Kirk had 8 points (3-for-4 overall and 2-for-2 on threes), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot, all crammed into 15 minutes of PT.
Let’s hope it’s not a serious injury.
I liked how aggressive Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were. Deng (21 points, 5 boards, 3 assists) and Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) combined for 19 free throw attempts, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots (okay, Jo had all the blocks, but still).
What I did not like (other than the Hinrich injury) was watching the bench struggle so badly (5-for-20) while the starters logged heavy minutes (37 each for Lu and Jo, 36 for Rip Hamilton, 33 for Boozer).
I mean, 37 minutes in an exhibition game? C’mon, Thibs.
I guess you could defend Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s decision to play the heck out of his starting unit — minus Hinrich, who sat out the second half — if they had looked rusty or ill-at-ease with each other. But they looked good.
And, anyway, the reserves are the ones who need floor time. The bench is what looks way off about this team in the early going.
Taj Gibson had zero points (0-for-3) in 19 minutes and finished with nearly as many fouls (4) as rebounds (6). I don’t know whether his contract situation is distracting him, but he has not played well this preseason. It’s becoming a real concern, especially considering he’s the leader of the (seriously underachieving) second unit.
Other than Jimmy Butler (2-for-3), none of the reserves could have located the basket with a GPS. In addition to Gibson’s o-fer, Nazr Mohammed was 0-for-2, Marco Belinelli (still without a three this preseason) was 0-for-1, Marquis Teague was 0-for-1, Nate Robinson (who moved into Hinrich’s starting spot in the second half) went 3-for-10.
Of course, Belinelli (12 minutes), Mohammed (7 minutes) and Teague (4 minutes) could have benefited from more PT.
Which brings me back to the “why are starters playing 37 minutes in a meaningless exhibition game?” question. It seems like there would be greater value in putting the reserves through their paces. Thibs pretty much knows what he’s going to get out of Boozer, Deng, Hamilton and Noah. Considering the combined history of injury problems that group has suffered, pushing them this hard before the season has even started seems risky. And Hinrich’s groin tweak could be Exhibit A.
But hey, I’m coaching from my desk chair.
The defense was strong as usual, limiting James Harden to 2-for-17 shooting and holding the Thunder to 39 percent as a team (although, again, this was minus Durant and Westbrook). I can’t say I was happy to see Serge Ibaka (24 points on 10-for-17 shooting) go off against the Bulls. But I guess you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Now we’re waiting for Friday’s preseason finale against the Pacers…
…and to find out if Hinrich’s injury is serious.