Chicago, IL – The Oklahoma City Thunder begin their season on the road in Chicago to face off against the Bulls and that is where the new edition of the Thunder will look to build on their somewhat surprising 2022-23 season.
This season, it could be a little harder to do that considering what they did last year putting the rest of the NBA world on notice. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won’t be shocking anyone with his abilities and Jalen Williams won’t catch anyone by surprise with how good he is. They also are adding 2022 number 2 draft pick Chet Holmgren to the team who some think will win Rookie of the Year.
They are a team that coaches have to make sure to prepare for.
And the Bulls were prepared. At least offensively because there wasn’t much defense to be played in the first quarter for either team. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander picked up right where he left off last season and is still un-guardable while the Bulls found ways to score on every level.
The second quarter was the complete opposite. Both teams really struggled to get shots and it was a very ugly quarter with quite a few fouls and turnovers. The Thunder did end the half strong though and took an 8 point lead into the half.
The second half the Thunder used their defense to put some distance between them and the Bulls and their offense followed. The Bulls had a really tough time getting good looks in the second half even though the box score says they scored a serviceable 49 points in the half.
After building a double digit lead in the third it was pretty much over for the Bulls because the Thunder continued to build on it and get a 20 point victory.
Here are the 3 reasons for the victory:
1) Protecting the Paint
Early on, the Bulls were feasting in the paint and the Thunder needed to make some major adjustments or it was going to be a long night for them. Whatever adjustment they made it worked.
They made things much more tougher for the Bulls to get to the paint with their point of attack defense and when they did get to the paint they did a great job of contesting the shots. The Bulls ended up with 44 points on 62.9% in the paint but the tape shows it was a much tougher night for them.
It wasn’t just Chet either. The whole team did a phenomenal job protecting the paint for most of the night.
2) Bench Mob
The Thunder bench outscored the Bulls bench 42-34 and that was enough.
It’s not about the points though. In the first half it was a little bit of a struggle for the Thunder when SGA went to the bench and that changed in the second half. Guys came in and set the tone and built on the lead the starters were able to get.
Particularly in the start of the fourth quarter. Cason Wallace and Isaiah Joe led the charge on both ends of the floor and all the Thunder starters had to do was come in and finish the job.
3) 3 Point Shooting
The Thunder shot lights out from 3.
They hit 19 3 pointers shooting 48.7% from there. It wasn’t just about hitting that many 3’s though. It was about the looks they got.
Thunder did a great job of playing inside out and making the defense collapse so they could get great looks all night. They really made the Bulls work on defense and it didn’t really work out much for them. If they can shoot anywhere close to this for the whole season they will be a force to reckon with.
The Thunder were led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who put up 31 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Josh Giddey added 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists while Jalen Williams added 16 points and 5 assists. Rookies Chet Holmgren and Cason Wallace had pretty nice debuts with 13 points for Cason and 11 points and 4 rebounds for Chet. Isaiah Joe put up 14 points off the bench.
The Thunder will look to make it 2 in a row on Friday night in Cleveland against the Cavs.