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Bulls lack fight, get thumped by Thunder

By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune –

OKLAHOMA CITY — If a hyped, so-called potential NBA Finals preview exists and the last two coach of the year winners say it’s just another game and the reigning most valuable player sits because of injury, does it really exist?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Even more unfortunately, such philosophizing befits a Bulls team that played as if it were navel-gazing Sunday afternoon.

Gone was the Bulls’ typical verve and fight. Sitting, again, were Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton. Present, with a combined 53 points, was the dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Add it all up and the Bulls’ seven-game road win streak vanished in a 92-78 loss to the Thunder that wasn’t that close.

“We were awful offensively and defensively,” Joakim Noah said. “It’s disappointing. They really kicked our ass in every aspect.”

In dropping their first road game since Feb. 12 at Boston, the Bulls never led and trailed by as many as 30. Bothered by the Thunder’s defensive length that featured nine blocks, they shot a season-low 33 percent.

Only a late flurry by the bench helped the Bulls avoid a season-worst loss and season low in points. John Lucas III led the “offense” with 19 points.

“The (lack of) fight,” a subdued Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, when asked what most bothered him. “I was more concerned with the mental aspect. I thought we made a lot of mental mistakes.”

The Bulls rallied from a slow start to pull within 43-39 on Lucas’ 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first half. Serge Ibaka followed by blocking Lucas’ shot, one of Ibaka’s five, and the Thunder closed the first half with a 6-0 run for a 10-point halftime lead.

To start the third quarter, the Bulls started settling for jumpers and bad shots — they finished 8-for-24 from 3-point range — and scored two points over a 5:16 stretch. The Thunder, led by 21 third-quarter points from Durant and Westbrook, pulled away with a 21-5 run.

“It’s concentration,” Thibodeau said. “We can’t allow teams to play to their strengths. They had size up front and if their defense is set, you have to move their size. You have to take the right shots and have floor balance.

“We were penetrating and just throwing some wild shots up. That’s not how we play. We’re capable of doing much better. And we will.”

Kyle Korver, who added 14 points, was the only starter to log fourth-quarter minutes. So at least the Bulls will be rested for Monday’s home game against the Rockets.

“We couldn’t get anything easy at the basket,” Noah said. “They were meeting us at the rim. They definitely played with more energy than we did.”

The Bulls scored a season-low 20 points in the paint. By the time Westbrook dunked over Omer Asik late in the third quarter, the Thunder were going for style points.

“I didn’t think we executed well,” Korver said. “I thought we got frustrated and played frustrated. We didn’t fight through it like we normally do.

“It’s an embarrassing game. You got your butt kicked on ABC on Sunday. The beauty of the NBA, especially this season, is you play again tomorrow. Hopefully we see this team again.”

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