The Chicago Bulls survived a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day, winning 105-96 to end a three-game losing streak.
It was the first game this season that the Thunder failed to hold a lead at any point during the contest, per ESPN's broadcast. It continued the team's surprising struggles against the Eastern Conference as well, as Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman noted:
Jimmy Butler (23 PTS, 6 REB, 4 AST, 4 STL), Pau Gasol (21 PTS, 13 REB, 6 AST), Derrick Rose (19 PTS, 4 REB) and Taj Gibson (13 PTS, 10 REB) led the way for Chicago, while Kevin Durant (29 PTS, 9 REB, 7 AST) and Russell Westbrook (26 PTS, 7 REB, 8 AST, 6 STL) were once again the headliners for the Thunder.
Westbrook's performance put him in rarefied air on Christmas Day, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Chicago's overall performance was just as impressive, however, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune noted:
The Bulls were sizzling to open the game, racing out to an 11-0 lead. They finished the quarter up 32-26, in large part thanks to Oklahoma City's poor shooting. (The Thunder were 9-of-28 from the field.) Nine offensive rebounds helped Oklahoma City stay in the game, though Butler drained a long three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulls their six-point cushion.
Oklahoma City continued to chip away at the lead in the second quarter, going on a 15-3 run late in the frame to cut the deficit to 54-52 at halftime.
The Thunder whipped the home crowd into a frenzy before the close of the half, but the Bulls opened the second frame on an 8-0 run.
It was the best gift Chicago could have given its fans, as Johnson noted:
For the Thunder, meanwhile, it was more of the same bad basketball that plagued them earlier in the game, as Slater tweeted:
The Bulls spent the rest of the quarter pulling away from the Thunder, outscoring them 32-16 and taking a commanding lead.
Given the team's struggles of late and the controversy surrounding Butler's comments about head coach Fred Hoiberg, Nick Friedell of ESPN was pretty surprised by the performance:
The Thunder appeared to wake from their slumber at the start of the fourth quarter, scoring a quick five points. But the Bulls began trading buckets with Oklahoma City and looked as though they would ride out their large lead and end their losing streak.
The Thunder had one more big push in them, however. A Durant dunk with seven minutes, 26 seconds remaining sparked a 14-4 run that included two three-pointers by Anthony Morrow that pulled Oklahoma City within six with under four minutes remaining.
The Bulls scored the game's next four points, however, to give themselves some breathing room before a Morrow three-pointer with 1:25 remaining cut the deficit back down to seven. But the Bulls were able to hold on and secure a huge win against a good Thunder team.
Chicago will travel to Dallas to play the Mavericks on Saturday, while the Thunder next face the Denver Nuggets at home Sunday.
The win snaps a brutal three-game losing streak for the Bulls. They previously dropped a four-overtime decision to the Detroit Pistons followed by a 16-point loss to the New York Knicks and a three-point loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets.
Taking down one of the better teams in the league was a relief for Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who spoke with the media after the game, via Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune.
"We needed something like this to show our guys how good we can be," Hoiberg said. "If we guard the opposing team the way we guard each other in practice, that's what it looks like."
Hoiberg's performance on the bench seemed up to the standard of Butler, who had made comments earlier that his coach needs to be tougher on the team. Per Greenstein:
Did he coach differently? No. But when someone didn't do something right, (he said), 'Hey, this is how it has to be done.' That's what we need. It's a learning curve for everybody — him, myself, everybody in this locker room.
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan on the other hand couldn't quite explain what happened to his team on Christmas, speaking with Anthony Slater of NewsOK.com.
"I don't know what it was,” Donovan said. “For whatever reason, we appeared a step behind them."
Durant knew it wasn't his team's night, per Slater.
“Everyone on our team has (energy),” Durant said. “But everybody just didn't bring it tonight.”
With a three-game winning streak snapped, it's not the kind of start the Thunder would have wanted to their four-game homestand. But a quick turnaround against a Denver Nuggets team that is coming off of a loss against the Los Angeles Lakers could quickly right things for the Thunder once again.