Russell Tussles As OKC Routes Chicago To Go One Back From First Place In The West

NBA

In a matchup that saw one of the West’s top teams host one of the East’s bottom feeders, the OKC Thunder routed Chicago, beating the Bulls by a final score of 121-96.

The usual suspects were up to their old tricks when the Bulls visited the Thunder on Monday night. Russell Westbrook tallied a game high 16 rebounds to match Paul George’s game high 24 points. George did most of his work in the first half, with a monster 16 point second quarter that gave OKC some breathing room with the second half offered little retribution for Chicago. The Bulls shot a decent 44% from the field, but turned the ball over 25 times and were unable to come within less than 16 from OKC in the second half. The third quarter did see a scuffle between Jeremy Grant and Robin Lopez, which was a response to a shoving match between Russell Westbrook and Chris Dunn. Westbrook went on to finish his triple double in the 4th quarter, dropping 3 points and dishing two dimes, giving him his seventh triple double of his season - 111th of his career.

 Billy Donovan has his side playing game-changing defense, with his two MVP candidates leading by example. Westbrook was leading the league in steals per game heading into Mondays matchup, and extended his lead after recording 5 steals in the home win. Only two teams in the Western Conference hold teams to less points than the Thunder (Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies). Over the past three years, Donovan has pursued defensive minded talent, and it is allowing OKC to mesh into a championship caliber team for the first time since KD departed. Players like Nerlens Noel and Jeremy Grant offer on rim protection and on-the-ball defending that is necessary for the system that Donovan is implementing with OKC. With Dennis Schroder adding a versatile 29.3 minutes a game, there is always a dynamic and defensively capable player guarding the oppositions guards at all times. This defensive oriented roster is a style that is against the grain of the league, with more teams choosing to load the bench with offensive-oriented talent first to adapt to the run and gun vibe. This risk has its negatives as well, with OKC lacking in the three point shooting department. One of their better three point shooters, Paul George, has always found a way to make an all-NBA impression on both ends of the floor. Speaking on the small forward, coach Donovan says, “He always wants to guard the other team’s best player. That’s something he wants,”. With such a contrasting style when compared to some of the other contending Western Conference contenders, it will be interesting to see if this edge will give OKC the edge that they have been missing in the playoffs. After all, this is only Billy Donovan's third year, and the trajectory of this OKC team seems to be on track, especially considering it is also the third year after losing the leagues 13-14 MVP, Kevin Durant. With the season ½ complete and OKC only a game back from first place, the Thunder will like how their team is meshing and finding a true identity.