Bulls get left in dust by OKC in 124-110 loss

It didn't take long Friday to realize the Bulls were facing a serious, team-wide matchup problem against Oklahoma City.

The Thunder spread the Bulls out with five players on the perimeter and challenged them to stop dribblers from getting to the basket.

The Bulls made a couple of runs against OKC subs, but otherwise were beaten pretty thoroughly, 124-110 at the United Center.

"We knew going in they were a hard-driving team," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "They were straight line-driving us. Catch the ball, straight line drive. Those are things you've got to be able to absorb."

This was the Bulls' second loss in a row without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, who is out with a right quad strain.

Zach LaVine scored 25 points and set a career-high in free-throw attempts. But he hit just 5 of 19 shots from the floor while going 14-for-15 at the foul line.

After the game, he hinted at a hidden injury. LaVine was listed as probable on the injury report with a right hand contusion.

"Drive the ball when you can't shoot," LaVine said in the locker room. "That what happens when you have a torn ligament."

LaVine walked away as he said that, while a team spokesperson said the 6-5 guard does not have a torn ligament.

But the Bulls' biggest problem in this game was defense, not shooting. Donovan said Alex Caruso stood up at halftime and told teammates he needed to do a better job of guarding the ball. Caruso spent a lot of time defending OKC rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 21 points.

Josh Giddey led the Thunder with 25.

"Some of the plays are just one-on-one pride, just getting down there and moving your feet and getting in front of people," Caruso said. "Just basics, being in the gaps, rotating low man, scrambling out and then boxing out. They're one of the best teams in the league at getting to the paint. We knew that was going to be an emphasis."

The Bulls trailed 80-62 early in the third quarter, but finished with an 18-5 run to close within 91-90 heading into the fourth.

Center Nikola Vucevic missed a 3-pointer that could have tied the score with 8:13 left and the Bulls quickly took themselves out of contention. Darius Bazley hit a layup and 3-point play, then turnovers by Goran Dragic and Ayo Dosunmu led to a pair of layups and OKC had a 7-0 run in less than 40 seconds, more of a lightning strike than thunder clap.

Keep in mind, Oklahoma City (20-23) was playing the second leg of back-to-back games, but rolled past Philadelphia 133-114 on Thursday.

"They were tough, they were straight line-driving us," LaVine said. "We didn't have a lot of protection at the rim, obviously a little short-handed. We've just got to play together. We weren't helping each other a lot."

Right from the start, this game had defensive disaster written all over it for the Bulls. The Thunder started stretch-five Mike Muscala at center and kept all five players on the perimeter. Using a variety of size, speed and ballhandlers, Oklahoma City carved up the Bulls defense with a relentless series of blow-bys and line-drive layups.

After falling behind by 12 points early, the Bulls managed to right the ship and actually led 44-38 early in the second quarter. But when the Thunder starters returned, they found that same formula to open a 72-58 lead by halftime.

The Bulls (19-24) did get some decent nights from the supporting cast. Coby White tied his season-high with 19 points and had 6 assists, while Patrick Williams scored 18.

"We've got to figure it out. You can't get discouraged on Jan. 13," Caruso said. "We could easily go 10, 15 games over .500 in the last stretch and then everybody would forget about the first half of the season. For us, it's just about figuring it out, putting our head down and going to work."

• Friday's game marked the 2,000th NBA broadcast for Bulls radio voice Chuck Swirsky. He was honored on the videoboard after the first quarter.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) fights for a rebound against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams, back, and guard Luguentz Dort, left on Friday in Chicago. Associated Press
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