CHICAGO – The Thunder dominated from nearly start to finish – it was perhaps one of the team’s most convincing performances of the year, and emerged from Chicago with a 109-94 victory.
Notching that first road victory in a month of January filled with 12 contests away from Chesapeake Energy Arena was important, but even more critical was the way the team went about getting that victory.
A 15-2 Thunder burst was encapsulated by a larger 25-9 breakaway run that spanned the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter, and even after a Dwyane Wade fueled 18-4 spurt for Chicago midway through the second period, the Thunder prodded the Bulls away through disciplined defense that held Chicago to just 40.5 percent shooting on the night. .
In the second half, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club built a 67-50 lead, but the Bulls scored seven straight to make it a 10-point game. Russell Westbrook supercharged the Thunder to respond with a 20-7 run and then Westbrook took care of business again in the fourth after the Bulls pulled to within 13 points with 3:12 remaining. The Thunder point guard found Steven Adams for a layup and then hit a jump shot to keep Chicago at bay and cap a 21-point, nine-rebound, 14-assist night.
“Russell was an incredible catalyst today from the start with the way he passed and got everybody involved,” Donovan said. “Our big guys passed the ball extremely well out of the low post and we were really unselfish on the fast break.”
“My hand is always on the game. I just pick my spots and see what’s open and what’s not,” Westbrook explained. “They were collapsing so I was just trying to make some passes.”
It wasn’t just Westbrook doing the passing on Monday night, though. The Thunder as a whole racked up 30 assists and shot 56.6 percent from the floor while racking up 60 points in the paint and a 25-4 edge in fast break points. The Thunder’s big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter served as the team’s interior point guards, and even if they didn’t rack up assists themselves, it was their ability to read double teams and kick out that helped the Thunder swing the ball to open shooters and drivers.
“The ball is going through them and they’re almost playing like point guards. They’re reading the defense, they’re making the extra pass, they’re seeing where the help is coming,” Donovan said. “If they have good post position and it’s one-on-one, they’re making good moves and are making good, strong aggressive plays around the basket. When the help comes, they’re looking to kick it out and find people.”
As Donovan mentioned, when isolated against a single defender, Adams and Kanter are more than capable of getting a bucket themselves without help. Kanter was effective and efficient again, finishing with 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds, along with a pair of assists and a number of other excellent passes out of double teams. Oh yeah, he also compiled a cool plus-27 plus-minus for the night.
For Adams’ part, the double teams didn’t come as often but he still made the Bulls pay. The Kiwi center scored 22 points, on 11 made field goals, the most in a game in his career. The way Adams did it was impressive – mostly over the top of Robin Lopez, a big, physical, veteran center. Whether it was hook shots with his left or right hand, early seals under the rim or on rolls to the bucket, Adams showed off his arsenal of post moves.
“He’s just taking his time and he’s confident. My job is to make sure that he gets the ball,” Westbrook said. “Miss or make I keep coming back to him and will make sure he’s confident in what he’s doing.”-
Grant Family Reunion
For the first time since he’s been in a Thunder jersey, forward Jerami Grant had the chance to square off against his NBA brother, Jerian. A point guard for the Chicago Bulls, Jerian played 21 minutes tonight, many of which matched up with Jerami’s 16 minutes of action, in which the Thunder’s own poster-machine racked up seven points, two rebounds and an assist, along with an absolutely devastating dunk in the lane deep into the fourth quarter.
The Grant brothers have played against each other a number of times going back to high school, college and now the pros. On Sunday night, Jerami had a chance to go to Jerian’s house and catch up with his brother, and then of course they met and exchanged some banter on the court tonight. It’s been a bit of a wardrobe challenge for the parents, including their NBA father Harvey Grant, but the family makes it work.
“They try to be on both sides. We’ve been playing against each other our whole lives,” Jerami Grant said. “In college, they wore half-Syracuse, half-Notre Dame shirts, so that’s where they stand.”
By the Numbers
25-4 – The Thunder’s advantage in fast break points on the night, as it held Chicago to just 40.5 percent shooting
30 – Assists for the Thunder as a team on the night, including a game-high 14 for Russell Westbrook to go with 21 points and nine rebounds
60 – Points in the paint for the Thunder as Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined to score 42 points on 20-for-25 shooting
The Last Word
“For us it was a matter of getting it off the glass, that helped, some offensive rebounds, some drives to the basket and our post ups. Those were the three areas that helped us generate points around the basket.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan