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Thunder show off against Bulls as a question of athleticism comes into play

Apr 1, 2012, 4:26 PM EDT

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant AP

Derrick was out, and had he played, this would have been a totally different game. Let’s just get that out in front right now. There is just no way to understate the impact that Derrick Rose, last season’s MVP, might have had on the Thunder’s 92-78 win vs. the Bulls on Sunday. This team is entirely different in its offense and in part its defense because of Rose’s singular talent.

That said?

In a game with impossible expectations, where the Thunder couldn’t impress because of the absence of Rose, they still made a statement. Because Rose playing wasn’t going to change much about the Thunder putting up 70 points with 5:25 to go in the third, about how the OKC offense took it to what many consider the best defense in the league consistently over a 48-minute stretch and took the life out of a team that seemingly has no quit in it.

For the Bulls, it shows a concern towards athleticism. Rose is a super-freak, that’s pretty obvious. But outside of maybe Noah and Taj Gibson the Bulls don’t play as a hyper-athletic team. Luol Deng has great length and speed. C.J. Watson has good burst. But overall, the Bulls are much more built for a grind-it-out approach. And that, in general, has always been the more successful model come the playoffs. It’s clear that was the intention for how the team was built. But against a team like the Thunder (or the Heat in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals), the problems multiply. In short, teams that can outrun the Bulls’ transition defense can hurt them badly.

The game was actually not out of hand until the third quarter. In that quarter, the Thunder scored 31 points on 21 shots, with a 95.2% True Shooting Percentage (factoring threes and free throws). That’s just absurd.  They held Chicago to a 49 offensive efficiency. So if the Bulls had played like they did in the third for 100 possessions, the Thunder would have given up just 49 points. That is really very bad.

Chicago can’t tout their wins over teams like Miami without Rose as a sign of their dominance and throw away this one. If they had hung, it would have sent a big message that if they had Rose, they would be right in it. As it stands, they are no longer playing the best in the league, they do need Rose, and they are struggling against hyper-athletic teams. It’s not a major problem, it’s just one game and this is still one of the baddest teams in the land.

But is there a team better equipped to down Chicago than the Thunder and Heat? Hyper-athletic superstar teams who can get to the rim and hit mid-range jumpers. If the Bulls defense engages, the Thunder can hit jumpers off the screen. Even their bigs match up well, with Ibaka and Perkins being comparable counters for Boozer and Noah. It’s just not a good thing that the two teams Chicago is likely to face in their last two series in a Finals run would be the best teams geared to beat them.

And all that said…

Derrick Rose didn’t play.

We learned Sunday that the Thunder are every bit as good as advertised, that they are playing the best ball they can right now. That Chicago is not invincible. But we haven’t learned a thing about who would win a Finals series. We’ll have to wait two more months to get that.

  1. gmsingh - Apr 1, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    The Bulls got spanked to be sure, but that was the Bulls at their worst and that was the Thunder at their best. I hope these two teams meet in the finals because with Rose back and Hamilton playing for three nanoseconds it could be a very good series.

    • comeonnowguys - Apr 2, 2012 at 9:41 AM

      Rip who?

      Don’t count on him until you actually see him complete a series.

      Even then, it’s found money.

  2. pudgalvin - Apr 1, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    Thunder are a buzz saw right now. Lucky for us, we hopefully won’t have to deal with them until June. And muchos gracias Boston, at least the bulls weren’t the only team to poop thier pants today.

    • boilerup1869 - Apr 1, 2012 at 11:11 PM

      miami is poop

  3. lyndseymarieee - Apr 1, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    I’m rooting for a Thunder/Bulls finals. I was hoping Rose was going to play today just so I could see him and Westbrook go head-to-head. Two of the most explosive PG’s in the NBA would’ve been extremely entertaining.

  4. asublimeday - Apr 1, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    Amen.

  5. glink123 - Apr 1, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    Interesting how people have basically forgotten that Rip Hamilton is on the Bulls roster. Imagine if the Heat magically added Ray Allen to their roster, two weeks before the playoffs. Think that would give the team a boost? You’re damn right.

    • comeonnowguys - Apr 2, 2012 at 9:43 AM

      There’s a reason that people have “forgotten” about him, you know.

    • sham13ert - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:27 AM

      The heat haven’t magically added Allen, who would take minutes at the wing.

      Rip Hamilton isn’t Ray Allen

      Ray Allen is shooting as good today as he was 5 years ago.

      Rip can’t stay on the court.

      But yes, if magic happened then Allen would give the Heat a boost.

  6. glink123 - Apr 1, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    Noah’s ability to completely vanish for significant stretches of games is becoming an issue. $12 million a year should get you more than 9 points and 9 rebounds per game. He’s got enough years behind him that he should be making more gains offensively than he has shown.

    • pudgalvin - Apr 1, 2012 at 10:31 PM

      Glink, Rip isn’t quite Ray Allen at this point and time, but I agree. If he can give solid minutes with 10-15 a game and decent defense, it gives Thibs so much more versatility with the bench. He can go offense/defense more with Korver and Brewer, plus relieve Deng a little more. Agree about Noah too, but nobody showed up today. It would be unfair to pin it only on him. Deng managed zero rebounds, Watson and Lucas were horrible, and the interior defense was embarrassing.

      Best just to forget about this one today, ’96 Bulls weren’t beating that Thunder team today. By the time we play the Knicks next Sunday, this team should be a full strength and hopefully we can really start to see what they can do.

    • drunkenjunk - Apr 1, 2012 at 11:53 PM

      True, but it seems like he has to make up for boozer’s dead weight on the defensive end a lot.

    • chicago240 - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:10 PM

      I’d kill for a little consistency by Noah and Boozer. When your volatility goes from a game changing player to a coach-sits-you-in-the-4th-quarter player, how can a team count on you for anything. Two big ticket players with stat lines that are equally likely to yield 20 points and 15 rebounds as they are 2 points, and 3 rebounds. Honestly, Rose is the only dependable stat line guy….they win because the rest of the team has enough guys who have decent games to pull them through on any given night and it seems Thibs just figures out who those players are for the night.

  7. dbled33 - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    And if the Bulls had won, would we be mentioning Rose didn’t play as frequently? The Thunder were the superior team with who was on the court and able to play. They have beat the Bulls in the past with Rose…

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