CHICAGO — In case there were any doubts, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still pretty good with guard Russell Westbrook on the floor.
The Thunder went 5-6 in the first 11 games after Westbrook returned to the lineup Feb. 20. He started at the United Center on Monday after taking the previous night off, and everything seemed to click.
Westbrook and Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant had little trouble solving one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Durant scored 35 points and Westbrook added 17, leading the Thunder to a 97-85 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
For the 32nd consecutive game, Durant scored at least 25 points, the second-longest streak in the NBA over the past 50 years, according to the Thunder.
At the start of the day, the Bulls were tied with the Indiana Pacers for fewest points allowed in the league, 92.2 per game. Chicago also was second in defensive field-goal percentage at .431.
“I knew after last night’s game, we would come back and do much better,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, referring to Sunday’s home loss to the Dallas Mavericks. “Give our guys credit, they hung in there and played a physical game.”
Westbrook sat out the loss to Dallas to avoid playing back-to-back games. He is still coming back from surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee last summer.
Westbrook added nine assists and nine rebounds. Durant hit 11 of 21 shots from the field while adding 12 rebounds and five assists. Center Serge Ibaka scored 15, and guard Caron Butler contributed 12 off the Thunder bench.
“We did a very good job of keeping the pace high, and we were playing our game,” Westbrook said.
Oklahoma City’s defense played a key role in the victory. After the Bulls pulled within 76-75 with 10 minutes remaining, Chicago went scoreless for the next 6:30, missing 11 consecutive shots before center Joakim Noah finally ended the 13-0 run with a free throw.
“This game, I thought we did a lot of good things,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We didn’t cover the (3-point) line as well as we would have liked to. We didn’t shoot the ball as well as we would have liked to. That’s why it’s so important to have shooting.”
Guard Derek Fisher started the Thunder’s run by hitting a 3-pointer. An Ibaka dunk, a pick-and-roll pass from Westbrook that led to a Durant dunk, and three free throws by Butler sent the lead soaring to 86-75 with 6:22 remaining.
Chicago trailed 76-67 after Thunder guard Reggie Jackson opened the fourth quarter with two free throws. The Bulls responded with a quick 8-0 run. Guard Jimmy Butler’s steal and dunk, then two baskets by forward Taj Gibson closed the gap to 76-75.
Chicago (37-30) had two chances to take the lead, but a turnover and a missed 3-pointer by Butler set the stage for Oklahoma City to pull away.
Gibson led the Bulls with 16 points. Jimmy Butler added 13, while forward Carlos Boozer finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Chicago shot just 34.5 percent from the field overall and made five of 22 attempts from 3-point range.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” Noah said. “They did a nice job hitting shots tonight. They played with an edge. We missed shots, and we definitely could have played better, though.”
The game was tight for most of the first half. Oklahoma City (49-18) used a 9-0 run late in the second quarter to open a 42-35 advantage. The Bulls closed within 47-45 by halftime after Jimmy Butler and guard Kirk Hinrich finished the quarter with 3-pointers.
Another 9-0 run in the third quarter put the Thunder ahead 69-58 with 4:12 remaining. Durant ended the spree by draining a long 3-pointer, then getting fouled behind the arc and sinking two of the three free throws.
The Bulls were hit with three technical fouls for defensive three-second violations. Durant knocked down the free throw after each violation.
NOTES: Oklahoma City G Russell Westbrook was back in the starting lineup Monday but didn’t want to explain why he sat out Sunday’s loss to Dallas and played in Chicago. Thunder coach Scott Brooks has said Westbrook might sit out in back-to-back situations while returning from a setback in his offseason knee surgery. “All I can tell you is that it was a decision we made as a group and stuck to it,” Westbrook said. … Like Westbrook, Bulls G Derrick Rose had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee. Rose is out for the season. “I’ve talked to him numerous times,” Westbrook said before the game. “He’s a tough guy. … He’s going to come back the same D-Rose he was before.” … Thunder G Thabo Sefolosha missed his eighth consecutive game with a left calf strain, while C Kendrick Perkins missed his 11th game with a groin strain. … Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant’s streak of 32 games with at least 25 points is the longest in the NBA since Michael Jordan had 40 straight for the Bulls in 1986-87.
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