Corny as it sounds, Thursday was a chance for the Bulls to rise to the occasion without Derrick Rose. They started 3-1 this season, but hadn't yet played a top-level team.
Oklahoma City delivered the star power, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook providing the toughest defensive challenge to date.
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The matchup seemed to bring out the best in Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton. The Bulls grabbed the lead a few times and fought back in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the Thunder had too much star power.
Durant scored 24 points, including 6 in the final minute, to lift Oklahoma City to a 97-91 victory at the United Center.
"They are hard to guard," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They made some tough plays and they closed it out. The game was there. The game was there to be had."
Westbrook put the visitors ahead for good at 89-87 on a driving lay-in with 2:02 remaining. After the teams exchanged misses, Durant drained the suspense from the building with a baseline pullup jumper and a foul-line fadeaway in the final minute. Both baskets gave Oklahoma City a 4-point lead.
Luol Deng led the Bulls with 27 points, he but could do nothing to stop Durant when it mattered most. Not that he's to blame as no one on the planet could have stopped the foul-line jumper by themselves. It fell through the net with 19.5 seconds on the clock and essentially put the game on ice.
"I thought I was on him," Deng said. "He's a great player. It's a tough shot. I was on him. Fadeaway, one leg, 6-(foot)-9 -- great player, really tough shot."
Earlier in the game, the Bulls scrapped and clawed to stay in the game. Hinrich tried his best to stay in Westbrook's personal space, while Hamilton ran through screens like Larry Brown was drawing up the plays.
"They're the defending Western Conference champs," Hamilton said. "Anytime you get an opportunity to play against one of the teams that's considered the best, you've got to being your 'A' game. If you don't they'll show you up. We were right there. We really felt we let one slip away."
When superstars are involved, the only question that matters is always how a team performs in crunchtime.
The Bulls erased a 5-point deficit and tied the score when Hamilton hit a jumper with 2:49 left. They had one chance to take the lead and Joakim Noah showed how much he's grown offensively by calling for the ball. He missed an open baseline jumper, however, and Westbrook scored on the next possession.
The home team then had two chances to tie, but Deng lost the ball on a drive, Hamilton missed a jumper and Durant took care of the rest.
"We always felt we can play against anybody," Noah said. "It's frustrating because you do two or three things differently and you win the game. I guess you can always look back at games like that, but when you lose by so few possessions, it's tough."