The Bulls were given another opportunity to take advantage of a depleted opponent against the Thunder on Tuesday, and they did just that in a resounding 123-102 victory. Zach LaVine scored an easy 40 points through three quarters with Lu Dort and Al Horford both out and unable to help hold down the fort defensively for OKC. The Thunder also didn’t have George Hill or Darius Bazley available.
LaVine shot a ridiculous 15-of-20 from the field and 7-of-12 from 3-point land, getting wherever he wanted on the court and facing very little resistance. The Bulls outscored the Thunder by a whopping 36 points in his 31 minutes as he quickly found a rhythm after his quiet game against the Raptors.
The All-Star got the Bulls going early with 16 first-quarter points as they racked up 42 in the opening frame for a 14-point lead. There was also a little showtime with a LaVine alley-oop and an actually successful Markkanen poster dunk:
ZACH LAVINE SHEEEEEESH pic.twitter.com/15qOi0n4M9— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 17, 2021
ANGRY LAURI pic.twitter.com/1YNQJxcyha— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 17, 2021
The Bulls’ lead hit 18 early in the second quarter, and it looked like this was going to be a laugher from start to finish. The non-LaVine minutes went poorly, though, with a spirited effort by OKC’s bench getting them right back in the game. That 18-point lead vanished in about five minutes by the time LaVine checked back in the game.
LaVine’s presence immediately got the Bulls scoring again, and they scored 22 points over the back half of the second quarter to finish with 71 in the half. The Thunder were able to stay within arm’s reach thanks to some Shai Gilgeous-Alexander heroics to close out the half, making it a 71-63 game at the break.
Then things got out of hand in the third quarter, with LaVine again taking center stage. The Bulls star scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the quarter, giving him an NBA-best four 20-point quarters this season and putting his name next to Michael Jordan in the history books:
Zach LaVine joins Michael Jordan as the only Bulls players with 40 points in 31 mins or less in a game— ESPN (@espn) March 17, 2021
(via @EliasSports) pic.twitter.com/qpzQNamzsE
As LaVine went off, the Thunder finally started to play to their talent level, throwing the ball all over the place and cooling down from the field.
Billy Donovan actually started Wendell Carter Jr. over Thaddeus Young in the second half in an attempt to balance out the lineups a bit more after the roller-coaster first half, and this gambit worked. The Bulls had racked up a 21-point lead by the time Young checked in for Carter late in the third quarter, and then the veteran went to work making sure there would be no comeback. Young scored the final basket of the third quarter and then dominated the start of the fourth quarter to finish with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Markkanen scored a somewhat quiet 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting despite his very loud dunk. Markkanen and the rest of the Bulls had some issues down low containing Moses Brown, who went for 20 points, 16 rebounds (eight offensive) and five blocks before fouling out, but he did actually block two shots and got to the foul line seven times. Certainly not a standout performance from The Finnisher, and he also did get put on skates by Poku, but a perfectly acceptable effort with some nice flashes of aggressiveness and finishing around the basket. The same can be said for Carter, who had nine points, nine rebounds and two assists. Carter joined Markkanen in dunking on Brown and played some stellar defense to start the second half.
Tomas Satoransky was the only other Bull in double figures with 13 points. Sato helped set the tone early with seven points and five assists in that dominant first quarter, pushing the pace and getting the Bulls into their offense early. It certainly helped that the Bulls were hitting just about everything in that opening quarter, but Sato and Young’s passing and the ball/player movement in general was beautiful to watch and helped them get in a rhythm. Check out this Young pass:
Thad Young has just started throwing Globetrotters passes every game now pic.twitter.com/bjapmxaPHa— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 17, 2021
Like the Raptors game, it’s tough to take too much away from a game against a team with such a talent deficit. As productive as SGA and Brown were at times, OKC’s shorthanded starting lineup had little chance and got absolutely crushed (SGA was a minus-36). The Bulls certainly deserve credit for taking advantage and bouncing back these last few games instead of playing with their food, and it looks like they’re also going to miss DeMar DeRozan on Wednesday when they go for a third consecutive win after the two disappointing losses out of the All-Star break.