Down to the wire

OKC lost to the Bulls in the fi­nal sec­onds, 114-112.

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - Erik Horne [email protected]­la­homan.com

CHICAGO — The Thun­der needed a de­fen­sive stop. You’d bet money that Paul Ge­orge could get one. He was a big rea­son why the Thun­der was in a po­si­tion to beat the Bulls.

His steal a few pos­ses­sions ear­lier with the Thun­der trail­ing by one led to a Den­nis Schroder fast break layup. But the Thun­der’s de­fense has been a sieve for most of the last eight quar­ters. Fri­day in Chicago was no dif­fer­ent, a carry over from the in­con­sis­tency against Brook­lyn.

In the Thun­der’s 114112 loss on Fri­day, OKC couldn’t get enough stops to slow down the young Bulls in its first loss to a sub-.500 team this sea­son.

Ge­orge looked to have 21-year-old Lauri Markka­nen cov­ered at the top of the 3-point line in a tie game, but the 7-footer made a quick spin move and got into the lane, float­ing a hook over Ge­orge and the late help of Steven Adams.

“I thought I could time his drib­ble,” Ge­orge said.

“It put me out of po­si­tion and gave him the

op­por­tu­nity to make a play.”

The Bulls’ shot go­ing in af­ter a tough con­test from Ge­orge, af­ter bounc­ing softly off the rim and glass, was good ball from Markka­nen and a lit­tle bit of luck.

But the Thun­der’s is­sues de­fend­ing at all lev­els started long be­fore the game-win­ner, long be­fore OKC re­gained some de­fen­sive in­tegrity in the sec­ond half.

The Bulls shot 12-of25 from 3-point range. The Thun­der gave up 70 points be­fore half­time. It’s what hap­pens when the Thun­der com­mits 22 turnovers: It can’t set its top-ranked de­fense.

“Sec­ond half we did a great job,” Ge­orge said of the de­fense. “Giv­ing up 70 is what hurt us.”

Fol­low­ing Schroder’s layup to take a 110-109 lead, it looked like the Thun­der had fixed its de­fen­sive is­sues thanks to Ge­orge. Nope. Justin Hol­i­day hit a 3-pointer as Rus­sell West­brook lost track of him slid­ing along the perime­ter.

When asked about the de­fense on the play, West­brook said he didn’t know. “I haven’t seen it yet,” he said.

West­brook fin­ished with 24 points, 17 re­bounds, 13 as­sists, in­clud­ing the game-ty­ing bas­ket with 23 sec­onds left.

He was all-en­ergy, per usual, but also had 10 turnovers which played a key hand in the Thun­der’s de­fen­sive dol­drums. The Thun­der’s turnovers led to 28 Bulls points.

Even so, the Thun­der was able to over­come that when its de­fense held on for stops.

In a 29-17 third quar­ter, the Thun­der’s de­fense led the way to spark the fast break of­fense, OKC tak­ing its first lead since mid­way through the first quar­ter on a Jerami Grant 3-pointer.

“We’ve done a great job the last 15 or 20 games of just stay­ing locked in,” Schroder said. “We’ve got to do it for 48 min­utes. We just can’t turn it on like we did in Brook­lyn.”

In a tight game amid a rau­cous United Cen­ter crowd, much of which was pro-Thun­der along OKC’s base­line, the Thun­der could ill af­ford to let its de­fense slip. For ev­ery good de­fen­sive play the Thun­der made, it would back­slide.

The Thun­der heads home with its de­fense in an un­fa­mil­iar place, a key bat­tle with Utah ahead on Mon­day.

“We gave our­selves a chance not play­ing as well as we wanted to,” Ge­orge said. “A game like this, a loss like this kind of re­sets things and puts it in per­spec­tive that we’ve got to do a bet­ter job when we come out like that.”

[AP PHOTO]

Ok­la­homa City Thun­der for­ward Jerami Grant, right, drives as Chicago Bulls cen­ter Wen­dell Carter Jr. de­fends dur­ing Fri­day’s bas­ket­ball game in Chicago.

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