Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) has the ball strip from him by Chicago Bulls guard D.J. Augustin (14) during the first half of an NBA basketball Monday, March 17, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
Updated: March 18, 2014 10:54AM
The Bulls wanted to know where they stacked up against NBA elite with less than a month left until the playoffs, and on Monday night they got their answer.
Not quite the answer they were hoping for.
Thanks to 35 points from Oklahoma City MVP candidate Kevin Durant, the Thunder pulled away from the Bulls in the fourth quarter, beating them 97-85 at the United Center.
At least now they know.
“I wish we could have this game back, I wish we could play these guys again, but it is what it is,’’ All-Star center Joakim Noah said.
Maybe the result would have been different. Maybe not, especially when the Bulls went ice cold offensively, missing 11 straight shots at one point in the final quarter.
“It just wasn’t going our way,’’ Taj Gibson said of the poor shooting. “We had a lot of good looks, a lot of normal looks that we usually make, and it wasn’t going down for us.’’
Either way, the fact that the Bulls (37-30) beat the likes of Miami and Houston on the 3-3 homestand should have been some consolation.
But coaches like Tom Thibodeau aren’t much into moral victories, and that’s why the details of the three losses were still fresh on his mind.
“It tells you exactly where you are,’’ Thibodeau said of the last six games. “Look, we played the Memphis game, had a seven-point lead with four minutes left in the third, open three, we missed, they came down and made. We didn’t close that quarter out well, that cost us.
“The San Antonio game we played very poorly at the start, got in a big hole.
“This game, I thought we did a lot of good things in this game. It’s a make-or-miss league, and as long as the ball moves and it’s your shot, we want you to take it.’’
Take it they did. The making part was much more difficult.
With 10:10 left in the game and the Bulls cutting the deficit to just three points, back into the game came Durant after a short breather. The immediate response was a Gibson basket to make it just a 76-75 game, but then star power took over, as Oklahoma City dominated down the stretch with a 16-1 run.
“Definitely mental toughness,’’ Durant said of the turnaround. “We were on a roll and wanted to stay poised. We stayed with it and made sure we executed.’’
In finishing with 35 points, Durant has now scored at least 25 points or more in 32 straight games. He also added 12 rebounds and five assists, and saw his share of double-teams throughout the game.
As far as the Bulls, there were led by 16 points from Gibson, while Noah chipped in with nine points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, again just missing a triple-double once again.
The only number Noah seemed concerned about was the 3-3 record on the homestand.
“I mean 3-3, we feel like we’re better than that, but we got to keep moving, keep grinding, and keep going forward,’’ Noah said.