CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah sat at his locker and scanned the box score intently late Thursday night. The emotional center had just racked up nine points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 97-91 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he wore the scratches on his chest to prove it. He saw the 20 turnovers the Bulls committed and he played over in his mind several stretches in the game, but he didn't need the box score to remind him what the Bulls were missing Thursday night.
That would be a superstar.
Kevin Durant, who finished with 24 points and nailed several huge shots in the final moments, played that role to perfection down the stretch for the Thunder. Derrick Rose, who actually made an appearance at the United Center on Thursday, could only watch helplessly somewhere.
"I think we did a good job on KD, he just ... he's a great player," Noah said. "He hit some tough shots at the end of the game. Off one leg, I think one of the shots he was behind the backboard. You've got to give credit when credit is due, but we feel like we could have played better."
Sure, the Bulls absolutely could have played better. They could have taken better care of the ball, they could have played better defense in the fourth quarter, Carlos Boozer could have made a couple more shots, but in the end, they didn't have the star power to overcome Durant's performance. They didn't have the guy they could turn to late in the game to turn things around. They didn't have Rose ... and it was more evident than ever on this night.
Of course, the Bulls didn't want to hear any of that.
"You can say that, but there's no excuses right now," forward Taj Gibson said. "We're a man down, but guys will have to step up. We got a bunch of good looks late, a couple in-and-outs, but you can't make excuses. That's what most guys want to do, make excuses about not having Derrick, but we just got to keep grinding until he gets back and just move forward."
Gibson and his teammates can talk about moving forward but that's going to be hard when the offense is stuck in place late in games. Without Rose, the Bulls are still trying to figure out where to go down the stretch in games. The problem is that, unlike the Thunder with Russell Westbrook, they don't have another bonafide star on the roster besides Rose. There's not another guy who can create his own shot off the dribble.
"I think the biggest thing is when we have a lead, we just got to figure out a way how to increase it," veteran guard Rip Hamilton said. "Just take it a possession at a time. I think we're OK. I just think once we get a lead, we got to figure out a way how to extend the lead."
Doing that against mediocre teams such as Cleveland is one thing, but doing that against an elite team such as the Thunder is another. Bulls fans will point to games last season in which guys like C.J. Watson and John Lucas III stepped up in place of Rose and knocked down several huge shots late. The difference in those cases is that both of those guys could create their own shot off the dribble. The Bulls don't have many of those guys now. Nate Robinson can fill that role at times, but he was just 1-for-6 on the night with a turnover.
"It's a long season," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "It's early. We just got to find ways without having Derrick there, even if you're having a bad night, you just got to find ways to win those games."
The problem the Bulls are going to run into this season without Rose is that Deng's sentiment is easy to say but hard to accomplish against championship-caliber teams such as the Thunder and MVP-caliber players such as Durant.