Whenever the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls meet on a basketball court, something zany and ridiculous is probably on the horizon.
It was the Bulls, who had a 26-point lead against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Dec. 19, 2019, who coughed up the lead and allowed OKC to complete a franchise-record shattering comeback victory.
When the Thunder paid a return trip to Chicago last February, Oklahoma City built a 24-point lead only for the Bulls to march back into it and have a chance to win late. A poor Zach LaVine 3-point attempt at the buzzer, thanks to Chris Paul’s defense, kept Chicago from capping the comeback.
The Bulls have the Thunder’s now-former head coach, but the same immature team was at it again on Friday night. Oklahoma City overcame a 22-point second-half deficit to beat the Bulls 127-125 in overtime for its first home win of the season.
First Takeaway: SGA A-OK
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a special cat, and I don’t say that because he played college ball at Kentucky.
It is rare for a 22-year-old to be this confident in his personal gifts while still being a benevolent teammate first. Even though Gilgeous-Alexander led his club in first-half scoring as his team trailed by double digits, he didn’t feel any pressure to dominate the ball and create more offensive opportunities for himself.
SGA could get in the lane anytime he wanted against the Bulls, and he certainly did, but he was also keen on keeping his eyes up just in case Isaiah Roby or Kenrich Williams were free to convert a higher percentage shot attempt.
When Shai needed to take over late, as he needed to during the Thunder’s playoff series against the Rockets last season and during this year's season opener at Charlotte, he answered the bell with a game-tying and-1 that helped send the game to overtime. He finished with a career-high 33 points and tied a career-high with 10 assists.
Second Takeaway: Thin Inside
Oklahoma City was playing its third game in four nights and the first two was a continuation of its home woes.
Coming into Friday, OKC was without forward Al Horford for the second consecutive game due to personal reasons and was also pondering whether or not Darius Bazley would suit up against the Bulls. Bazley sprained an ankle during the third quarter of the Thunder’s Wednesday loss to the Lakers and did not return.
Bazley was still quite shaky in his return to the floor (3-for-12 shooting, five rebounds, four turnovers) on Friday night.
A healthy and active Horford and Bazley are paramount for a team that allows 50.9 points in the paint per game (third-worst in the NBA entering Friday per TeamRankings.com).
The Bulls, however, don't make their hay in the paint. Their outside shooting is what makes the team go (37.7 shooting from 3-point distance through 11 games) and that proved true again on Friday (21-for-45 on 3-pointers; 45.7 percent).
As the Thunder was making its fourth quarter push, Roby, who started in Horford’s place, fouled out with under three minutes left in regulation.
Mike Muscala stepped in to play the role of hero. Two of SGA’s 10 assists went to Muscala, who canned two 3-pointers in overtime to lift the Thunder to victory.
Third Takeaway: The Return Of Sweet Lu
Thunder guard Lu Dort roared out of the gate this season, fulfilling his role as the team’s defensive stopper while also carving a new one as dead-eye shooter (16.0 points, 51.1 percent FG shooting and 47.8 3-point shooting in four December games).
As the calendar turned to January, Dort cooled off considerably entering Friday (9.9 points, 41.5 percent FG shooting in seven January games), but he came through in the third quarter.
Dort’s defense, as a part of the Thunder scoring 19 points off the Bulls’ nine third-quarter turnovers, was instrumental in Oklahoma City cutting its 22-point deficit to just two points within the same quarter.
He finished with six steals but also finished with his best offensive game since Dec. 28 by scoring 21 points and converting on four 3-pointers.
And so, here we are. The Thunder is back at .500 with a 6-6 record.
Remember: No serious expectations this season. Just vibes.