Thunder take advantage of another slow start by Bulls
OKLAHOMA CITY — Chicago is developing a habit — a bad one.
Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bulls were outscored in each first quarter of the last three games.
Wednesday night was no exception.
The Bulls sputtered in the first quarter of the 92-79 loss to the Thunder, scoring only seven points — one from tying a franchise record for fewest points in a quarter — while committing five turnovers.
“We fought from the second quarter on, but we’re down 20 in the first quarter with a seven-point quarter,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You’re not breeding any confidence for yourselves. So it’s a mindset.
“You’ve got to come out and see that thing go through the hoop. It’s going to give you a little confidence. Right now, we don’t have a lot, especially early in games.”
After racing to a 27-7 lead in the first quarter, the Thunder (7-7) posted their third consecutive home win by maintaining a strong defense after the opening quarter to buoy its offense in the second half.
“I thought we did a good of of being aggressive, using our hands,” Russell Westbrook said. “That’s how we win games.”
Westbrook led the Thunder with 21 points, five rebounds and seven assists, and Carmelo Anthony added 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Forward Lauri Markkanen led the Bulls (2-10) with 16 points and six rebounds.
While the Bulls floundered in the first quarter, the Thunder shot 47.6 percent from the floor, led by Anthony’s 3-of-5 performance for nine points.
After missing Sunday’s game with a sore back, Anthony poured in seven consecutive points early in the first quarter to give the Thunder a 11-3 lead with 7:23 remaining.
“It definitely helps in all aspects of the game just because he knows how to play the game so well,” Westbrook said of Anthony’s return.
The Bulls went 1 of 7 from the floor in the same stretch, with the only bucket from Markkanen.
While the Bulls’ offense looked bleak in the first quarter, Denzel Valentine helped bring a spark off the bench in the second quarter. The second-year shooting guard was nearly perfect from the floor in the first half, missing just one of five attempts, to score 10 points.
His efforts helped Chicago rebound with 27 points in the second quarter, but an eruption from Westbrook kept the Thunder ahead by a sizable margin.
Westbrook didn’t score his first points until 6:41 left in the second quarter on a 3-pointer to give the the Thunder a 20-point lead. The bucket kicked off a scoring flurry where the point guard reeled off 12 points in three minutes.
“He does that to a lot of people,” Hoiberg said. “He’s so explosive. There’s a reason he was the MVP last season.”
By halftime, the Thunder had a 58-34 advantage with three players in double figures. Valentine was the only Chicago player in double digits.
The Bulls showed fight in the third quarter, opening with a 9-6 scoring edge as the Thunder’s offense slowed down.
Chicago outscored Oklahoma City 22-19 in the third quarter and hung around in the fourth quarter to whittle the Thunder’s lead to 14 with 2:44 to play.
“In the second half, we never got into a rhythm,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Never played to an identity.”
But the dismal opening quarter put Chicago in an insurmountable hole and the Bulls weren’t able to complete the fourth-quarter rally.
“We had some things in the second half that we can build on,” Hoiberg said. “For our team to have a chance to win, we have to play 48 minutes, and we’re not doing that right now.”
NOTES: Thunder C Steven Adams missed his third game with a right calf contusion. ... Thunder F Dakari Johnson got his third consecutive start with Adams out. ... Thunder G Daniel Hamilton was active for the game, becoming Oklahoma City’s first two-way player to be activated. ... Bulls G Kris Dunn made his first career start with Justin Holiday on paternity leave ... F Quincy Pondexter replaced Paul Zipser at small forward in the starting lineup. ... Chicago scored seven points in the first quarter, its lowest opening-quarter output in franchise history. ... The Thunder forced three shot-clock violations in the first half. ... The Thunder return to action Friday against Sacramento. The Bulls play Charlotte.