The "closer" ideology is a tricky subject, but one that's generally considered a bit silly these days. Statistics peg teams that do things other than run isolation for one player over and over again as the best in the clutch.
But when those isolations, known in NBA circles as "hero ball," work, it looks amazing. And that's what happened to the Chicago Bulls.
Trailing by two, 89-87, with less than a minute left, the Oklahoma City Thunder ran Kevin Durant off of a screen, getting him the ball against Luol Deng just inside the three point line on the right wing. Durant dribbled baseline and knocked in an off-balance jumper with Deng draped all over him.
Then, after a Taj Gibson jumper made it 91-89 with about 35 seconds left, Durant came off another screen, getting the ball at the right elbow. He dribbled to his left and hit a one-legged fadeaway with 19 seconds left. Once again, Deng was all over him, but it didn't matter.
Durant also hit a pair of free throws after the Bulls ran an excellent play for a Joakim Noah dunk to essentially ice the game.
It's a credit to the Bulls that they were in the game to the very end. In fact, they led by six going into the fourth quarter. But they simply didn't have the offensive firepower they needed down the stretch. Kirk Hinrich was very good through three quarters before disappearing in the fourth quarter. Carlos Boozer was awful all game. Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton did OK for a while, but they both missed makeable jumpers down the stretch that would have made a big difference.
Side note: the Bulls closed both the second and third quarters with wide open threes by Hinrich and Deng, respectively, that didn't go down. If even one of those shots goes down, the whole end of the game is different.
Look, the Thunder are simply better than the Bulls. There's no shame in that. Chicago fought and scrapped with all their might, they just don't have the talent to match up with OKC. Not with Derrick Rose out, anyway. They're going to be right in the thick of the Central Division race until the end of the year. There's no real need to panic.
Nonetheless, a couple of things are becoming clear early on. First, Taj Gibson should be starting. He's pretty much established himself as the closing power forward, so there's no point in keeping up the charade with Boozer in the starting lineup any more.
Second, Marco Belinelli is awful and Jimmy Butler should get his minutes. Yes, we're only five games into the season. But even Tom Thibodeau seems to be out on Belinelli. Down four with 15 seconds left, looking for a three, did Thibs turn to Belinelli, the designated shooter and supposed shot creator? Nope. He went with Vladimir Radmanovic, who had played all of three minutes total through the first four games and hadn't appeared in this game at all. So…yeah.
Anyway, the Bulls get the Minnesota Timberwolves next, who are still without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. The game will be all kinds of ugly, but the Bulls will have a decent shot to bounce back from this loss.
Player o' the Game: Luol Deng. 27 points on 11/21 from the field, 3/6 from downtown.
Stepped up his game tonight, outplayed Durant for 46 minutes. Just had some bad luck down the stretch.
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