By Ryan Costello
Suffocating fourth quarter defense coupled with a late flurry lifted the Thunder over the Bulls 106-95 in Oklahoma City Wednesday night.
The Thunder had four players in double-figures and converted on 38-of-47 attempts from the free throw line in the season-opening win before a sellout crowd of 18,203 packed inside Oklahoma City Arena.
Kevin Durant scored 11 of his game-high 30 points at the line, but shot just 9-24 from the field.
“I was struggling at first and my shot wasn’t going down but coach Rex (Kalamian) pulled me aside and told me in tough times like this, you have to continue to fight on the defensive end and get rebounds,” Durant said.
The Bulls were limited to just 13 points on 25 percent shooting in the final quarter that was capped off by a decisive 13-4 run by the Thunder.
“I thought in the fourth quarter, that was probably our best defense in the last month,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “We have to be a defensive-minded team, and the guys tonight did a really good job locking down.”
Brooks singled out guard Thabo Sefolosha, who led the Thunder’s defense with two steals and four blocked shots.
“[Sefolosha] doesn’t get a lot of credit for what we do, but he made a lot of game-winning plays tonight,” Brooks said. “We couldn’t ask for a better effort defensively.”
The Thunder scored 18 points off the Bulls 15 turnovers, five of which came in the fourth quarter.
“Coach Brooks emphasized for us to get three stops in a row and I think that was a big part for us to finish the game,” Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said.
Westbrook flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 28 points on 8-for-15 shooting, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Oklahoma City forward Jeff Green scored 21 points, including a three-pointer that gave the Thunder a 13-point lead with 1:29 remaining in the game, and point guard Eric Maynor added 10.
Durant and Westbrook were playing opposite their summer teammate Derrick Rose. Rose paced the Bulls with 28 points, six assists, and four rebounds, but hit only 12 of his game-high 31 shots from the floor.
“[Rose] is an unbelievable player. I’ve seen it first hand over in Turkey. He’s so quick with the basketball and so smart. He can get his shot off at any time,” Durant said, adding that the Thunder made the young point guard “earn his points.”
Rose played only 31 minutes in the game after being whistled for his second foul in the first quarter and his fourth early in the third quarter.
“It hurt me. I haven’t been in foul trouble like that since my rookie year,” Rose said.
The Bulls will return to Chicago for their home opener against Detroit Saturday night.
The Thunder will travel to Detroit to play the Pistons Friday night before returning to Oklahoma City to play against Utah in their first divisional matchup of the season.