If you have a friend who thinks the Chicago Bulls are just fine without Derrick Rose, make sure they watch Sunday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The reigning league MVP missed his 10th straight game (groin), and while his teammates have now amassed an impressive 14-6 record when he's been unable to suit up this season, the gap in athleticism and talent that reared its head at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday highlights the fundamental problem with finding any workable formula for the Rose-less Bulls against top competition. Chicago scored a season-low 20 points in the paint and shot an abysmal 33 percent from the floor while Russell Westbrook (27 points, five assists, four steals, no turnovers) and Kevin Durant (26 points, 10 rebounds) finished their jobs in less than three quarters as the Thunder cruised to a 92-78 blowout win and officially clinched a playoff berth.
Don't let the final score fool you; this was an old-fashioned NBA blowout. Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer kept the game within 10 points at the first half as they combined for 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting, but the OKC starting five particularly overwhelmed their counterparts in the third quarter. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka sparked a 31-12 run that started with a rare Ibaka three, diffused into a long-range barrage by the entire trio and ended with a truly "Thunderous" dunk -- pun sadly intended -- by Westbrook over Bulls' backup center Omer Asik.
By the time the smoke cleared from the third period, Oklahoma City's starters were happily searching for a comfortable seat on the bench from which to watch the rest of game unfold. After three quarters, OKC led Chicago 80-51, with the duo of Westbrook and Durant outscoring the entire Bulls roster 53-51 and no player on Chicago converting more field goals than Serge Ibaka had blocked shots (5) in his 21 minutes on the court. The Bulls crafted a cosmetic 27-12 surge in the final quarter to smooth over some of the inequalities, but that didn't change what happened in the first 36 minutes.
For the Bulls to beat a good team without Derrick Rose, they need to shoot well from beyond the arc. In this contest, Chicago missed 16 of their 24 shots from three-point range and only John Lucas III (5-for-13) and Kyle Korver (3-for-5) actually found the bottom of the net. Lucas scored a team-high 19 points, but that line developed mostly during garbage time as he shot 2-for-10 from the field and 1-for-6 from three prior to the final quarter.
Now it's time for a tour of the Oklahoma City Thunder Highlight Factory. Enjoy:
It didn't end (or start) there, either. If you need to see more, feel free to browse through the selections below:
1. Westbrook dunks on Omer Asik in .GIF form (behind the basket angle). In this version you don't get to see the disappointment on Asik's face, but the angle is perfect to see how the Turkish big man pulls down his challenge hand at the height of his jump. Luckily for us, he realized the futility of his defensive effort far too late to avoid being posterized. Westbrook gives a nice strong chest pound after the slam as well.
2. Asik gets dunked on by Westbrook in .GIF form (alternative angle from above the hoop). It's a perfect perspective to capture the in-your-face nature of the assault on Asik and the rim.
3. Westbrook throws a back-door alley-oop to Durant in .GIF form (broadcast angle). The Durantula tricks Luol Deng into hedging just a bit too hard to anticipate a staggered double screen, and breaks back to the hoop at the last second for a perfectly timed alley-oop from his point guard.
4. Durant alley-oop in .GIF form (behind the basket angle). It highlights the degree of difficulty on Westbrook's dutiful delivery.
So, is it time to panic for the Bulls? No. They still own the best record in the NBA at 42-12 and can afford to wait for Rose to heal up for the playoffs, but the point is that the absolutely need their star point guard at 100 percent if this season is to actually mean anything. As for the Thunder (40-12), they hold the best record in the Western Conference and became the first team to officially earn a spot in the West bracket.
For all news and information regarding the Chicago Bulls, please visit Blog A Bull or SB Nation Chicago. For updates and perspective on the Oklahoma City Thunder, head on over to Welcome to Loud City or SB Nation Kansas City.
For all of Sunday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.