Down to the wire
OKC lost to the Bulls in the final seconds, 114-112.
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.”
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant, right, drives as Chicago Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. defends during Friday’s basketball game in Chicago.