Thursday night's nationally televised clash between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls was a classic matchup of a prolific offense battling a stingy defense.
The Thunder wound up prevailing by a score of 97-91, with Kevin Durant leading the way with 24 points. In a game that came down to the wire, Durant came up clutch as only he could. Knocking down shot after shot down the stretch, Durant propelled the Thunder to a huge early-season victory.
A running storyline this season, Russell Westbrook was incredibly inefficient once again, scoring 16 points on a weak 7-of-22 shooting. By comparison, Durant converted on 11-of-19 attempts.
Another questionable offensive performance will undoubtedly mean more criticism in the coming days for Westbrook, but there shouldn't be expectations that he'll change his reckless ways any time soon.
As for the Bulls, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton helped lead the way, combining to score 47 points on the night.
Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC: D
Westbrook couldn't find quality looks early, taking seven shots in the first 12 minutes and converting on just one of them. Of those seven first-quarter shots, three were from beyond the arc.
Aside from his shooting, Westbrook was solid in the first half. After one quarter Westbrook had compiled five assists compared to zero turnovers, and finished the first half with eight dimes, but only scored four points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Westbrook hoisted up a team-high 22 shots, but only converted on seven for 16 points. A positive for those wishing to see more conventional point guard play out of Westbrook, the Thunder point guard finished with 12 assists.
Kirk Hinrich, PG, Chicago: C
Matched up against Russell Westbrook, Kirk Hinrich had a tough time converting on his few offensive opportunities early. Scoring five points on 2-of-5 shooting, Hinrich was kept out of the spotlight but played some effective defense against his more physically imposing opponent.
Hinrich wound up finishing with a solid 12 points and five assists as he was able to take advantage of an overly aggressive Westbrook at times.
Thabo Sefolosha, SG, OKC: C-
Thabo Sefolosha was quiet for the majority of the game's first half, converting on two of his three field-goal opportunities for a total of five points.
What was most surprising on the night was the quality of Sefolosha's defense, which seemed to be lagging, especially early.
Sefolosha finished with seven points and seven rebounds, and was significantly outplayed by his bench counterpart, Kevin Martin.
Richard Hamilton, SG, Chicago: A-
Hamilton was the hottest Bulls starter in the early going, knocking down 3-of-5 shots for eight early points.
Curling off of screens and creating off the dribble, Hamilton's early surge was all the more impressive because it came with Sefolosha defending him.
Hamilton continued his hot shooting the second half, converting on a variety of mid-range jumpers that helped keep the Bulls competitive all night long.
With totals of 20 points and eight rebounds, Hamilton turned in one of his best performances of this young season.
Kevin Durant, SF, OKC: A
With Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka dominating the bulk of the offensive touches in the early going, Durant was left to watch several offensive sets as he set up shop on the perimeter.
However, as the game wore on, Durant was able to find holes in the Bulls' pesky defense and finished the first half with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Durant's production ticked up in the second half, and he finished with 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
Efficiency (or, lack thereof) continues to be the story for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook can't find a way to maximize his looks, while Durant continues to do more with fewer opportunities.
Luol Deng, SF, Chicago: A
Luol Deng was the Bulls' most significant offensive contributor, compiling a quiet 13 first-half points on a very steady 6-of-11 shooting.
Deng flashed impressive range, even with the lanky Kevin Durant defending. In addition to producing quality offensive numbers, Deng limited Durant to just 10 points by half.
In the second half Deng continued to shoot at a high rate and found his stroke from beyond the arc, knocking down three treys en route to a team-high 27 points.
Serge Ibaka, PF, OKC: A-
With the Bulls defense containing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant early, Serge Ibaka took advantage of his matchup with Carlos Boozer.
Shooting without hesitation, Ibaka converted on 5-of-9 first-quarter looks for 11 points (including one three-pointer). Ibaka continued his high level of activity on both ends of the floor, finishing the first half with 15 points, two blocks and three rebounds.
Ibaka's persistence on both ends of the floor resulted in a complete stat line, as he converted on 8-of-15 shots for 21 points with nine rebounds and four blocks.
Carlos Boozer, PF, Chicago: B-
Carlos Boozer has been relatively disappointing during his time in Chicago, but was moderately effective, even against Ibaka's stingy defense.
Boozer was a lousy 2-of-8 from the field in the game's first 24 minutes, but secured six rebounds and notched seven points.
With consistent output throughout the second half, Boozer was able to bump his final state line to nine points and 11 rebounds.
Kendrick Perkins, C, OKC: F
Used for just 12 minutes in the first half, Perkins found himself neutralized by the stellar defensive play of the Bulls frontcourt, and Joakim Noah in particular.
Perkins was unable to crack the score sheet in the early going, and the Thunder were minus-11 when the aggressive big man was on the floor during the game's first 24 minutes.
Perk wasn't particularly active on either end of the floor, and finished a minus-14 and zero points in 20 minutes of action.
Joakim Noah, C, Chicago: B
With Derrick Rose out of the lineup, Joakim Noah has been called upon to be the glue that holds this Bulls lineup together.
Nothing seemed to change on Thursday night. Noah was active early, often playing the role of offensive catalyst, with many of the Bulls' offensive sets running through the talented big man in the high post.
Noah showed his unique passing ability and high basketball IQ often, finishing the first half with four points, six rebounds and three assists.
Noah's consistency helped maintain a sense of balance on the offensive end, and he proved his worth as a premier two-way player, finishing with nine points, six assists and 13 rebounds.
Kevin Martin, SG, OKC: B
Efficient once again, Kevin Martin has been one of the Thunder's steadiest offensive performers throughout the early stages of the season.
Martin dropped nine points on 3-of-4 shooting in 15 first-half minutes, proving once again that the trade for James Harden may not have been as lopsided as it may have seemed.
Martin's clutch shooting carried over to the second half, where he finished with 15 points on an impressive 3-of-5 shooting (8-of-9 from the line).
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago: D-
Supplementing the play of Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson was very disappointing in his 10 early minutes. A minus-10 during his time on the floor, Gibson was able to attempt just one shot, totaling zero points.
Gibson would muster just four total points in a game where the Bulls really needed him to step up.
Oklahoma City Bench: C
The Thunder bench continues to be one the team's primary strengths, but they didn't have their A-game on Thursday night.
While Kevin Martin has been the Thunder's key bench contributor, bigs like Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet were largely ineffective against the Bulls' tenacious defense. Collison scored just four points whileThabeet struggled to work his way into the offensive flow and was held scoreless.
A bright spot for Scott Brooks' bunch, Eric Maynor looked the best he has all season, totaling 10 points, knocking down all five of his free-throws.
Chicago Bench: D
The Bulls went 10-deep versus OKC, and during the early going the team's most significant bench contributor was second-year man Jimmy Butler.
Totaling six points in nine early minutes, Butler looked strong, also posting three rebounds and three assists early. Butler wound up finishing with numbers identical to those he posted in the first half.
Aside from Butler, no one on the Bulls bench could really get going. Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson combined for four points, and aside from Gibson and Butler, were the only bench players to record digits in the scoring column.