By Randy Renner
The Thunder's on again-off again defense was on again last night in Chicago, holding the Bulls to just 34.5 percent shooting. That's one of OKC's top defensive performances of the season and it follows hard on the heels of one of the team's worst defensive efforts.
Sunday against the Mavericks the Thunder couldn't keep Dallas from hitting at least half the shots they put up in any quarter. Then last night, just 24 hours later, the Thunder didn't allow the Bulls to make even 40 percent of their shots in any quarter.
"You give yourself a chance when you play defense like that," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks pointed out after the game.
24 hours earlier Brooks was about as disgusted as has been this season having watch his team pay little attention to trying to stop anyone.
Kevin Durant wasn't very happy either saying after the Mavs game, "it seemed like we were just coasting."
Last night everyone was focused in.
“It definitely takes mental toughness, especially on the road. We wanted to stay poised, knowing that this game is about runs and they made theirs at the end of the second and also in that fourth," Durant said. "We just stayed with it, coach drew up some good plays and we were able to execute.”
The Bulls went on an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter, drawing to within a point of the Thunder. But this time the Thunder responded with an even more impressive run of their own (16-1) to put the game out of reach.
Durant had another big night with 35 points and 12 rebounds. It's the 32nd straight game he's scored at least 25 points and is now the second longest such streak in the NBA in the last 50 years. Michael Jordan had a 40 game streak in the 1986-87 season.
Like he has at other times during the streak, Durant played it down after the game.
“I just go out there and play, have fun and play to win. If all that stuff comes with it then that’s cool. But I have bigger goals in mind."
The biggest is to win an NBA Championship this season and to do that the Thunder still have a few things to straighten out.
It's been a bit of a Jekyl and Hyde ride for the Thunder that has seen them win six and lose six of the 12 games they've played since the All-Star break.
Most often it's been defensive breakdowns that have caused the losses, though the offense was also ineffective Sunday against the Mavs.
Everything was much better last night. The obvious difference was Russell Westbrook, he didn't play Sunday but back in the lineup last night he came within a rebound and an assist of having another triple-double with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
The Westbrook roller coaster will continue this week and apparently for the rest of the regular season. The Thunder still have five more sets of back-to-backs to play including Thursday in Cleveland and Friday in Toronto and Westbrook will miss one of those games.
"We just have to pick one of them. And looking at the schedule, there’s a few things, actually more than a few things, that we look at and factor in," Brooks said. "I don’t really want to get into the details of it. But you have to pick one of them. He’s going to play in back-to-backs the one game."
Westbrook supposedly is fine health-wise. Brooks has said his surgically repaired knee has not flared up and that Westbrook's conditioning isn't a problem. Still the team is sticking with the plan that was put in place weeks ago.
“All I can tell you is it’s a decision that we made as a group and that we stuck to," Westbrook said last night. "It’s important for me to make sure my health is OK. How long it’s going to last, I’m not sure. For now, all I can do is just go day by day and figure out what I’m going to do next."
Neither coach nor player would say last night which game of these next two Westbrook will miss. But whichever, it certainly appears the Thunder roller coaster will be up and running again Thursday and Friday.