I’d say it was entirely believable at this point, but really the Bulls losing yet another game after holding a huge lead is still kind of incredible.
In this one it was a lead of 26 points at its peak and 21 points early in the second half that the Bulls wound up seeing waste away for a 109-106 loss. The Bulls lead was down to eight as the 3rd quarter came to a close, and then Chris Paul, old but still hall-of-fame bound, hit five threes in the 4th quarter to get his team up for good.
In this extended sequence (Paul played the final 13 minutes of the game), he was continually roasting Bulls big men on switches. Most often it was for that looks-too-easy three pointer, but there were also forays into the lane and timely assists. One of Paul’s eight assists (to go along with 30 points) was for a Danillo Gallinari three to tie the game with 5 minutes remaining, as Gallo and Terrence Ferguson had four three-point makes apiece and overall the Thunder shot a blistering 47% from distance.
The Bulls on the other end fell apart like they usually do. Some stagnant offense, questionable calls (and other legitimate ones), missed offensive rebounds, and questionable timeout management all contributed to finishing in snatching this defeat from the jaws of victory. It kind of all came together in the last couple minutes: to offensive boards went to Steven Adams to then see him tied up with Wendell Carter Jr., the ensuing jump-ball saw not only Carter called for the foul but Boylen losing their last timeout after challenging the call. Later, with the game tied with just under 26 seconds, Chris Paul almost traveled in his drive to end things but was able to call a timeout, only to see another foul on Carter as he wrapped up Adams on the inbound. Boylen decides to sub out Carter knowing his team can’t advance the ball, and the ensuing FT miss (the first one was miraculously banked in) went again back to the Thunder.
Sandwiched in there was some late heroics from Zach LaVine, and he was pretty brilliant offensively in this one even in the 2nd half. LaVine had 6 points in the last two minutes, but had to settle for a 3/4-court heave as time expired in the last effort to tie things up. LaVine finished with 39 points in this game, with the next highest Bull scoring 13.
It was all a lot more egalitarian in the first half, especially in the opening quarter that saw the Bulls jump out to a 37-16 lead. The Thunder were abysmal from the outset and committed 14 first-quarter turnovers, and their defense and rebounding were lethargic (especially from Adams). The Bulls were doing their thing: aggressively going after the ball, fouling like mad, diving on the floor like goobers. But it was working in part due to OKC’s acquiescence: they were able to run out on these giveaways, with both LaVine and Lauri Markkanen able to score on the move and exploiting mismatches from a Thunder transition defense. Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono were flinging from three in that first half too to help the Bulls to their highest-scoring first half of the season.
Alas, we also then saw the Bulls do their thing and give it all back when the opponent actually gets their heads in the game and adjusts. You have to think that this style of play is partially explanatory of why the Bulls can both build large leads then piss them away. The coaching tactics certainly aren’t helping. Or maybe there’s something to what John Paxson was saying over the weekend in that the coaching is great it’s that his players are mentally susceptible to these collapses.