If there's such thing as a statement win in December, the Bulls got it on Christmas. After dropping six of their last 10 games, Jimmy Butler (23 points) and Pau Gasol (21) helped Chicago bounce back for a 105–96 Friday afternoon win at Oklahoma City.
The Bulls’ season was teetering on disaster heading into Christmas Day. After dropping a hard-fought, four-overtime game to the Pistons last week, Chicago season's began to fall off the rails. Back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets followed, prompting Jimmy Butler to call out head caoch Fred Hoiberg. That trouble was amplified by Joakim Noah suffering a shoulder sprain that will sideline him for two weeks.
Before their holiday matchup tipped off in Oklahoma City—a city in which the Bulls had lost five straight—ESPN analyst Doug Collins opined on the telecast about the fragility of success. The Bulls certainly toed that line, but managed to jump back on the positive side with a wire-to-wire win over the Thunder. Butler led the way with 23 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals in a strong all-around effort. Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose combined to score 40 points to supplement Butler’s performance in Chicago’s much-needed win.
The Thunder, who had won nine of their last 10 games, gave the Bulls a formidable challenge. As they are wont to do, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were ultra-aggressive on the offensive end, forcing Rose and Butler to work on defense. Outside of Oklahoma City’s dynamic duo, though, points were hard to find. A late burst from Anthony Morrow kept things interesting down the stretch, but OKC didn’t have enough to keep pace with the Bulls’ onslaught in the end.
Naughty: Serge Ibaka, Thunder. Basketball observers were delighted when Ibaka developed the ability to step outside and knock down shots from midrange and the three-point line. No one could predict just how much he would rely on that new skill, though. Ibaka failed to make an impact on Christmas Day, and that’s partly due to his new residence on the perimeter. With players like Steven Adams struggling to finish at the rim, the Thunder could use Ibaka down low. His ability to fight for offensive rebounds and extend plays is almost moot when he is 3-of-12 from the field for six points (and only three attempts outside the paint).
Nice: Jimmy Butler, Bulls. Butler created quite a stage for himself on Christmas Day. When a star player calls out his new coach, the light shines brighter on both parties. Butler’s actions were (rightfully) watched closely after he said the Bulls needed to be coached harder. To his credit, he didn’t fold under the pressure, remaining dialed in on defense and providing offense at the same impressive rate that he has all season.
Style watch: Derrick Rose was one of few NBA players afforded the opportunity to wear his own special edition signature shoe on Christmas Day. Adidas didn’t disappoint with this colorway. As is often the case on special days like this, no attention was paid to the team colors and it’s hard to argue with the results.
Biggest takeaway: Because teams are covered and analyzed so closely these days, it’s easy for small blips to become magnified. Friday, we learned that the sky hasn't fallen, and the Bulls aren’t dead just yet. They pulled off a quality win and a series sweep of the Thunder. Few teams are capable of such a feat.