While the Bulls did their best to try and turn this matchup against the Thunder into a scrappy clank-fest, it wound up being their own misses that did them in. After a run to start the 4th quarter cutting the deficit to 1, the Bulls suffered a 6 and a half minute scoreless drought as part of a 18-3 Thunder run to run away with the game.
That run coincided with Kevin Durant returning to the game after the Thunder bench dared to let the Bulls back into it. Durant played 42 minutes and the team was a -10 with him not on the floor, as though he only scored 4 points in that final run he was one of the few things that the Bulls couldn't stop in the preceding 3 quarters with 31 points during that time. Durant started a bit off slow missing 4 of his first 5 shots, but he eventually got it going against Jimmy Butler and finished with his 32nd straight game with 25 points or more. If you noted the accompanying graphic when that occurred, it was described as Jordan-esque, and though Butler put in his typical great effort (in nearly 46 minutes) there was little he could do: The farther Durant was away from the basket, the easier it was for him to create space, and with unlimited range why not.
Durant was 3-4 from three (I think his only miss was a half-court heave) and his team was 13-25 overall, hitting bombs even during the times where the Bulls defense was keeping them close. This wasn't quite like when the Spurs had a similar barrage last week, a lot of these makes were of the less-routine (and open) variety, whether it was Durant simply being a 7-foot freak or Russell Westbook pulling up in transition or a couple of tough Reggie Jackson makes these weren't so much 'system' 3-pointers but they were effective. There was more method to the Thunder offense when they had their best runs (including the closer) going small, spreading out the floor deftly with even Serge Ibaka camping out in the corner, allowing Durant to slip inside on more than a couple of occasions for all-too-easy finishes.
Ibaka and Westbrook weren't as spectacular as Durant but each chipped in. Westbrook sat out the night prior and was on a minutes limit as a way to preserve his knees, and though he shot 5-14 (and 2-9 in the first half) he did get to 17 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists in just over 28 minutes. Westbrook also did a good job getting his team to play fast (especially in the 2nd quarter when the Bulls had another scoring drought), and although the Bulls were doing well in getting back in transition and challenging shots, it was a relentless attack that was bound to break through at some point. Ibaka was on Joakim Noah for most of the game and shut down a lot of Noah's dribble-drive options. Noah still nearly had a triple-double himself, but finished with only 9 points on 2-8 shooting.
The Bulls as a whole shot 34.5% from the field and 5-22 from three-point range, with Butler and D.J. Augustin (who I thought played better until I looked at the box score) going a combined 1-11. Kirk Hinrich had some moments that made you think he was going to rise to his usual national tv level (especially with back-to-back fouls drawn in the 2nd half), but was a big part of that 4th quarter scoring drought and finished 3-12. Taj Gibson had a solid night with 16 points and 7 rebounds, but was unable to capitalize when the Thunder gambling with Durant on him (with guards digging in to help) while in their small lineups.
The Bulls did stay in the game until that final quarter behind their rebounding edge, a surprisingly-low turnover night (just 5 all game), and some horrible play from the Thunder role players. Their ability to play small was huge, as their big men outside of Ibaka were getting beat to the ball on both ends, with Hasheem Thabeet even making Carlos Boozer look quick. I think Anthony Roberson played only because with Kendrick Perkins hurt Scotty Brooks feels the need to start at least one awful player at some position. And Caron Butler and Derek Fisher look their age, but they also hit 4-10 from three. Those are guys who know at least how to get open while Westbrook, Ibaka, and especially Durant do all the work, but they still seem like they need more from outside of their Big 3 to step up if they're to get back to the Finals.
With the loss, the Bulls ended their very tough homestand with a fine 3-3 record, securing a couple of huge wins to prove they're quite good. No they didn't beat the Grizzlies, Spurs, or Thunder, but that just means they're not extremely good. They're pretty good!