Thunder controlled the paint and the pace
The Oklahoma City Thunder controlled this game from start to finish, playing the game the way they’re most comfortable and imposing their will on the Bulls. OKC entered the game second in the NBA in the percentage of their points scored in the paint at 47.3%. The Thunder improved on that Monday in Chicago, scoring 60 of their 109 points in the paint, compared to just 36 scored by the Bulls.
Steven Adams was unstoppable all night and finished with a team-high 22 points on 11/14 shooting. Adams displayed excellent touch on his jump hooks and acted as though Robin Lopez wasn’t even there. The ground-bound Lopez had no chance contesting the athletic Kiwi and was unable to prevent Adams from getting deep post position throughout the game.
Enes Kanter did a fair amount of damage himself in this game, scoring 20 on 9/11 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds. Matched up against Cristiano Felicio, Kanter was able to outmaneuver his young opponent with crafty footwork. When Nikola Mirotic was forced to battle Kanter in the paint, Enes was able to overpower the smaller man and force the Bulls to send help. Kanter did a great job of dissecting the Bulls defense when he felt double teams were coming and made Chicago pay for their sloppiness.
Kanter finished the game with three assists, and could have had even more if the Thunder had connected on some wide open three point attempts that were generated from Kanter post-ups.
The Thunder are also third in the league in percentage of their points scored in fast break situations, a stat that certainly boosts their points in the paint number. On Monday, OKC outscored the Bulls 25-4 on the break.
Both Kanter and Adams ran hard down the floor several times after a Bulls miss or turnover. Their hustle sometimes resulted in bad cross-matches for the Bulls where the two big men were able to take advantage of small defenders caught in a bad situation.
2. Westbrook took advantage of the defense’s attention
The Bulls help Russell Westbrook quiet (well, quiet for Westbrook standards) in this game, giving up just 21 points and just three free throw attempts to a guy who’s averaging a league leading 31.2 points per game and leads the league with 10.4 free throw attempts per game.
But even though Westbrook, who was still an extremely efficient 9/18 from the field, did not have a big scoring night, he took advantage of the Bulls defensive strategy and got all of his teammates involved.
The Bulls deployed a gameplan clearly designed to force the ball out of Westbrook’s hands. Every time a screen was set for Westbrook, two or sometimes three Bulls would shift their attention to the UCLA product to prevent him from penetrating the lane. Westbrook was never flummoxed by all the attention and made the right pass over and over again to beat the defense.
Check out this reel of all of Westbrook’s 14 assists and you will notice a clear pattern. Westbrook was content to take what the defense gave him, and tonight, the defense gave him passing lanes to cutters streaking towards the rim.
I don’t fault the Bulls for trying to get the ball out of Westbrook’s hands. It’s sound logic and a strategy that other teams have used to slow down Jimmy Butler. OKC also does not have any shooters that can theoretically pay should the ball be swung around the perimeter after Westbrook gives it up.
Unfortunately, the execution of the plan did not go very well. The Bulls always made an effort to corral Westbrook and wall off the paint, but they rarely sent hard traps at him that would have made him uncomfortable and perhaps would have obscured some passing lanes from his vision. The Bulls just did not play with the type of intensity and energy necessary to carry out such a strategy.
3. Why play Butler at all?
It was pretty clear from the opening tip that Jimmy Butler was not himself. The current Conference Player of the Week belt-holder managed to score just a single point in nearly 29 minutes of action. Butler shot 0/6 from the field and did not play with any of the ferocity that Bulls fans have come to expect.
On one third quarter possession, Butler did not have the energy to even attempt to catch a lob pass from Michael Carter-Williams. On several other possessions, Butler was unwilling to attempt a shot in traffic after penetrating the lane.
I don’t blame Butler at all for his poor performance. All reports indicated that Butler is seriously ill, which explains the blah effort he put forth in this game.
My issue comes with the coaching and training staff that allowed Butler to play at all. Monday’s game against the Thunder was the first in a series of five games in seven nights. The Bulls play again Tuesday in Washington in a game that the coaching staff had already determined prior to the game Monday that Wade would not play in.
Now, after his poor performance, Butler is also being ruled out for the second end of this back-to-back. I can’t help but think that the organization would have been wise to give Butler an extra day of rest against the Thunder, ride Wade hard knowing he’s out on Tuesday, and see if the extra R&R for Jimmy would be enough to recharge his batteries for the Wizards. Instead, the Bulls will almost certainly lose in Washington with their two only two perimeter scorers watching from the sidelines.