OKLAHOMA CITY – I’m absolutely going to give the Thunder the benefit of the doubt here. They played good defense Sunday night.
But man, Chicago sure is bad.
While the Bulls brought the LOL on the offensive end, the Thunder got a healthy amount of just what they needed.
Hard to tell if it was good Oklahoma City defense or just hide-your-eyes Chicago shooting, but the result was a positive one. The Thunder won their second in a row — after a three-game losing streak — 102-72 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It was a huge break to get Chicago on the schedule when the Thunder did. They needed an escape plan to pull out of their recent defensive funk, and it’s a much bigger break to face the Bulls again without the injured Derrick Rose.
Without the All-Star Rose, this team looks ordinary, plain and better suited for Big 10 football than NBA basketball, no matter how intense, focused or locked-in the Thunder say they were.
“We made them miss tonight,” Kevin Durant said. “We got a hand up and made the second and third efforts. It’s just a focus thing. Sometimes we’re going to make mistakes, but if we play hard we make up for a lot of those mistakes.”
Durant’s right. Now’s not the time to pile on. After all, the Thunder held Chicago to 29.06 percent shooting, the lowest any team has shot against the Thunder since they moved to Oklahoma City.
But spinning it forward, it was also the first time in the last five games the Thunder have allowed less than 100 points. This team was on fragile defensive footing of late and even made a trade to start fixing it after allowing 111 to Minnesota, 122 to Houston and 110 to Miami in a trio of dreadful defensive games.
OKC acquired Ronnie Brewer from the Knicks, but he wasn’t in uniform Sunday. He should be available Wednesday against New Orleans.
“Tonight, there’s no complaints,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We played lock-down defense and contested a lot of shots.”
Draw your own conclusions on who should get credit for this piece of work Sunday. Maybe it doesn’t even matter, but consider the Bulls started 7 of 39 from the field, were at 26 percent shooting as a team through three quarters and finished the game against the Thunder bench.
It was the kind of offense that would make any defense look good, but what happened Sunday is a good start. Oklahoma City will face the Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers and Knicks in the next two weeks.
“We wanted to be physical,” Brooks said. “They are a very aggressive defensive team. We didn’t want to get outplayed in that area. Defensively, that’s as good as we’ve played in five to six weeks.”
The 72 points was the second-lowest OKC has allowed this season (Charlotte and Phoenix each had 69) and it was a refreshing break after seeing Minnesota, with its depleted roster, go for 111.
The Thunder rank a pedestrian 16th in the league in points allowed, but credit that to creating more possessions with their up-tempo offense. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City’s habit of turning it over — 15.7 per game; 29th in the league — also creates more opportunities for the opposition. So while Oklahoma City had 17 turnovers Sunday, the Bulls were so limited, it didn’t even matter.
How limited? Well, Nate Robinson started Sunday. He was 2 of 14 from the field. Joakim Noah was 2 of 9 and Richard Hamilton 2 of 7. It’s safe to say Chicago missed some shots those guys would normally make, but at this point, there’s no reason to go searching for why and how.
Leave that to the Bulls.
“The way we competed was embarrassing,” Noah said. “We took steps backward. There’s really no excuse. Everyone needs to look themselves in the mirror. It’s very humbling to lose like that. This isn’t getting it done and it’s tough.”
Down past the double doors in the bottom of the arena, the Thunder were talking about the game a bit differently.
“I think the energy was very good,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “We were talking out there on the court and that’s what we need to get back (to playing good defense). It started with defense for us. When we play this way defensively, I think we are really tough to match.”
The Thunder needed a defensive outing like this one. They needed to get off the floor with a win and feel good about themselves and their effort.
That effort was there Sunday. We’ll see if they are still talking about communication, energy and focus when they hit the road at the end of the week.