The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 92-79. What was once a taut game at the end of two quarters, with the score knotted at 40 apiece, remained a struggle for the talented Thunder squad who could not seem to put away the Bucks for good. In fact, late in the 3rd quarter the Bucks took a 3 point lead off of an O.J. Mayo 3-pointer, but the satisfaction was short-lived as OKC finished the quarter on a 16-6 run, which gave them control of the game and they would not relinquish it.
The Thunder were led in scoring by Russell Westbrook, who continues to shoot a high percentage from the floor. Westbrook finished with 26 points on 10-20 shooting to go along with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and a steal. He was greatly supported by Serge Ibaka, who has been both consistent and dominant over the past 3 games, a welcome site after struggling early. He finished with 15 points, a career-high 20 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
The Bucks were led by Mayo, who finished with 22 points and shot 5-11 from 3-point range.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
It is difficult for me to write much about this game and not give credence to the fact that the Bucks are simply not as talented and on top of that are shorthanded. To get a sense of it, I refer you to our game preview.
Within that context, it was difficult to watch the same team that put up 115 points against the Warriors 3 nights ago struggle to get to 92 this time out, with only 40 of those points at halftime. The Thunder tallied only 17 assists on the night, and that total was indicative as to how incohesively they played. One would have hoped that OKC would have figured out 3-4 mismatches that they could have taken advantage of repeatedly and then beat the Bucks into submission early on, but without such a plan (or the focus to execute a plan) the Thunder found themselves playing a lot of 1 on 1 ball with the hopes that their overwhelming talent advantages at nearly every position would manifest.
The talent DID show up eventually, but it left a far more bitter taste than the loss to the Warriors.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder have matchup advantages at nearly every spot on the court with the possible exception of shooting guard. It took a while to exploit those matchups, but given enough time and enough attempts, eventually the greater talent can prevail.
For a while however we had our doubts, as OKC could muster only 15 made field goals in the 1st half. The second half was not much better, as the majority of the offense consisted of Durant and Westbrook getting a screen and then looking for a shot. Sadly, gone was a lot of the fast ball movement and shots at the rim that we were treated to earlier this week. Instead, we got a healthy dose of mid-range jumpers. Even OKC's free throws were off, as they shot only 19-27 on the night.
In the end, the Bucks simply did not have enough offensive talent to generate any good looks at the rim. The Thunder defense did just enough to challenge them to difficult shots, and Milwaukee scored only 14 points in the final quarter.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Bucks can't shoot, and they put the ball in the basket a woeful 34.9% of the time in this game. All the Thunder really needed to do was stay in front of their man on defense and wait for him to hoist a low percentage perimeter shot.
Aside from Westbrook's continued performance in shooting at a high percentage, a key individual stat that manifested over the night was Serge Ibaka's play on both ends of the court. Tonight he tied a career high by grabbing 20 rebounds, a key number against a Bucks team that can't shoot.
What is exciting to see about Ibaka's performance these days is that he has left behind nearly all of the weaknesses he came into the league with. His hands used to be terrible; now they are dependable. There was one sequence near the end of the game where Westbrook tried to feed him off of a high pick and roll, but somebody tipped the ball and it went higher than its original trajectory. The Ibaka of yesteryear would have just watched that ball sail into the stands. This version however made an exceptional adjustment on the ball, hauled it in with his finger tips, and then the pair reversed out the play and ran it again, this time with Westbrook feeding Ibaka on the baseline. Ibaka hit a short jump shot and the play-by-play man noted that they turned something into chicken salad.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder ended the week with a win to put a little bit of shine on a frustrating week that included 2 losses to Western Conference playoff teams. Very little.
The week overall has been frustrating, but as we have written now ad nauseum, this is November. Every team is a little off in some way or another. It takes time for teams to gel and for players to get used to how they are performing.
The biggest aspect of the Bucks win is that it could have turned into a trap game. OKC could have simply mailed it in and left this week with 3 losses instead of 2. As we noted, the Bucks had a lead late in the 3rd. However, OKC decided that this was not the path they wanted to take, found the energy to play 15 minutes of inspired ball, and on this night, that was indeed enough to push them to a double digit win.
Actually, maybe not well done, but at least, done.
|Final - 11.16.2013||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||23||17||32||20||92|
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, 15 points, 20 rebounds, 4 blocked shots
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, 26 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal
Thunder Blunder: Jeremy Lamb, 3-11 shooting for 7 points
Thunder Plunderer: O.J. Mayo, 22 points including 5-11 from 3-point range
Next game: vs the Denver Nuggets on Monday, Nov. 18 at 7:00PM CDT