OKLAHOMA CITY -- Lying flat on his back and writhing in pain, Kevin Durant gave Oklahoma City its first big scare of the season. By the time the game was on the line, he and Russell Westbrook were soaring high again and leading the Thunder to victory.
"It's big. Of course, it's just one out of 82, and we'll see how it goes," said Thabo Sefolosha, who had two key blocks and clamped down on Derrick Rose down the stretch. "But that definitely gives us confidence. Especially winning it this way, with the defense, I think that's big for us."
After being one of the league's worst teams two seasons ago, the Thunder preached defense all last season on the way to the playoffs. It kicked in again in the final few minutes, spurring a late 11-0 run that put the game away.
Durant and Westbrook each powered down two-handed dunks during the surge and Jeff Green hit a 3-pointer that extended Oklahoma City's lead to 104-91 with 1:29 remaining.
Sefolosha blocked shots by Rose and Luol Deng that could have tied it up in the final 5 minutes, and Serge Ibaka swatted another Rose shot that led to Westbrook's fast-break dunk that turned into a three-point. Durant followed by blowing past Deng on the next possession for his own dunk.
"We're a defensive team. That comes first, and defense is going to lead to offense," Durant said. "That's the only thing we was worrying about in the fourth quarter was playing defense, and we did a good job of getting stops. That made it easier for us on the offensive end."
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Rose scored 28 points to lead the Bulls in Tom Thibodeau's debut as head coach. He had only four points in the final 21 minutes, his hot start cooled off by foul trouble.
Free agent acquisition Carlos Boozer sported a cast on his broken right hand, but the rest of the Bulls' overhauled roster kept it close throughout. Neither team led by more than eight until the Thunder's final spurt.
The Bulls missed three shots on the same possession - including Sefolosha's block of a fast-break layup by Rose - and then got a third offensive rebound before calling timeout with 11 seconds left on the shot clock. They couldn't get a potential tying shot off before the buzzer.
"You can't have blown sets in the fourth quarter," Thibodeau said. "I think that's where you have to be at your best. You have to be able to execute under pressure, and we'll do better. We have to do better."
Chicago brought in eight new players after making it to the playoffs for the fifth time in six season, while Daequan Cook was the only newcomer to get on the floor for Oklahoma City following its first playoff berth since 2005.
"A big part of it is we were fouling so much that we didn't get a chance to maintain our tempo," Thibodeau said. "Particularly in the fourth quarter, if you're making them miss, now you can get out into the open floor. That's when Derrick's at his best. He's very difficult to guard like that."
Oklahoma City shot and made 25 more free throws than Chicago, finishing 38-for-47. Durant and Westbrook were a combined 23 for 26.
"It's all about us being aggressive," Durant said. "We're an aggressive, athletic, quick team and getting to the rim is one of our strong points. We've got to continue to get there."
The Thunder got a brief scare at the end of the third quarter when Durant fell hard on his rear end after being called for charging into Chicago's Ronnie Brewer. He stayed down for a few moments before hobbling off the court. Trainers stretched his legs during the break between the quarters and then had him sit on an ice pack. Durant walked to the scorer's table to check into the game with only 3 minutes elapsed in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't long before he got fouled on the fast break and hit a pair of free throws to put Oklahoma City up 88-87, and the Thunder wouldn't trail again.
Rose hit consecutive reverse layups in the midst of five made shots in a row before heading to the bench with two first-quarter fouls. When Rose returned, he immediately started digging the Bulls out of an eight-point hole and put them back ahead 46-45 with a pair of free throws he earned by getting fouled on another reverse layup try.
He was just 4 for 16 in the second half.
"Even though he had a lot of points tonight, I think we did a good job pretty much isolating him from the rest of his teammates," Sefolosha said. "That was good. He was kind of on an island out there when he was playing."
- Thunder F Nick Collison missed the game with a stress reaction in his left knee. C Byron Mullens and G Morris Peterson, acquired in a draft night trade, were also inactive.
- Chicago's jerseys have a patch on the right shoulder commemorating the 20th anniversary of the team's first NBA title.
- Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks was happy to see Thibodeau get his shot as a head coach but not so fond of one experience playing under his tutelage with the New York Knicks during the 1996-97 season. "He was a jerk. I was like in my ninth year in the league and he put me with three rookies. I had to get there early at 4 o'clock and work out with the three rookies because he wanted me to set an example," Brooks said. "I didn't appreciate that."