Before the season began, an inter-conference matchup between the Thunder and the Bulls seemed like a tasty affair, and one that would be worthy of its mid-December nationally televised time slot.
But after Derrick Rose once again went down for the season with an injury, and with Luol Deng missing this one with a sore Achilles, Chicago simply didn’t have enough talent in place to compete with one of the league’s best teams.
As a result, the Thunder improved to a league-best 21-4 on the season with a 107-95 victory that was honestly never in doubt.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were each relatively unstoppable, and every time the Bulls turned it over, it seemed as thought the Thunder were getting out to score easy points in transition. OKC ended up with a 24-10 edge in fast break points, and the Thunder got a strong 18 points from Reggie Jackson off the bench.
There was absolutely no surprise with the way this game turned out — the Thunder are one of the league’s more uptempo teams, especially at home, and the Bulls are more of a plodding defensive club (even when healthy) that would have a tough time matching the scoring power and the overall energy that this Thunder team brings on a nightly basis.
Credit Chicago as always for fighting to the best of its ability, but Oklahoma City is competing on a completely different level at this point of the season. And it showed in this one.
Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute
The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.
Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.
“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.
“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”
Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.
“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”
For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).
It was a fun contest all night long.
Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.
Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.
Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.
Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.
Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.
Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”
Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)