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OKC’s closer finishes off Bulls without their closer

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer tries drive past Thunder forward Nick Collissecond quarter Chicago Bulls-OklahomCity Thunder NBA game Thursday November 8

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer tries to drive past Thunder forward Nick Collison in the second quarter of the Chicago Bulls-Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game Thursday November 8, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:48PM



CHICAGO — Tom Thibodeau spent the 48 hours leading up to the showdown with the defending Western Conference Champions talking about it like it was just another game of checkers.

Very ho-hum, with a lot of standard Thibodeau clichés like, “building good habits,” and “play to our strengths, cover up our weaknesses.”

Just like playing checkers.

Yeah right. This was a game of chess for the Bulls head coach, and for 47 minutes of it he moved the pieces around like a master.

Having his defenders go under the pick-and-roll, daring streaky shooter Russell Westbrook to take the long-distance shot, using Jimmy Butler to counter the offense of Kevin Martin, and even throwing 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson on 6-9 Kevin Durant at the end of the third with a soft zone behind him to take away Durant’s quickness.

All for naught in the 97-91 loss.

When there’s no Rose on the board to move around, there’s only so much to cover up.

The Thursday loss was yet another reminder of how important injured star Derrick Rose is to the Bulls, especially against a team with All-Stars like Durant and Westbrook.

“You try to keep it the same, no matter who you’re playing, but when you study their team and you are looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the team, you have to make decisions that you feel will give you your best shot at winning,” Thibodeau explained. “So it’s challenging because of their greatness. When you have guys like Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka, and you bring in a guy like Kevin Martin off the bench, that puts enormous pressure on you.”

It does. And it did.

The Bulls have had their Jekyll and Hyde first halves this season, and that didn’t change against the Thunder.

An 18-foot Luol Deng jumper midway through the first quarter put the Bulls up eight, and forced Thunder coach Scott Brooks to regroup with a timeout. Make that reload.

Thanks largely in part to Ibaka, OKC went on a 20-12 run to close out the first with a tie.

That momentum carried into the second quarter, as the Thunder pulled out in front seven, but then the Bulls counter-punched, actually grabbing a five-point lead in the final few minutes of that first half, before giving it right back.

A Kevin Durant lay-up gave the Thunder the 48-47 halftime lead, but the Bulls at least showed they could take a punch from the defending Western Conference Champions and get back up. A theme that didn’t change in the second half, and in the final two minutes.

With the game tied 87-87, Westbrook put the Thunder up two with a driving layup. In what would have been Rose time, the Bulls got a miss from Richard Hamilton, leading to a Durant one-hander from the baseline and a four-point deficit.

“Every game is a measuring stick,” Thibodeau said. “To me it reveals where you are, so it tells you the things you need to work on, and then you have to ask if you’re doing things at a championship-caliber level.”

Taj Gibson cut it to two with 32 second left, but Durant hit a ridiculous shot off his back foot on a fadeaway, and then eventually iced the game at the line.

A star being a star.

A piece that Thibodeau doesn’t have to play with.



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