The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 109-99. Playing the 2nd night of a double-header, the Thunder nearly lost but ultimately regained the control that they have been exerting over weaker teams all season. After suffering a horrific defensive effort in the 3rd quarter in giving up 37 points, the Thunder closed out the game by holding Milwaukee to 16 4th quarter points and OKC finished with a double-digit win.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook who, despite shooting poorly on the night (6-18), recorded his 6th career triple double by scoring 23 points while grabbing 13 rebounds and passing out 10 assists. He also added 3 steals and a block, solidifying a very good defensive effort against the Bucks' backcourt. Westbrook played a big role in helping hold the Bucks backcourt duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a combined 17 points on 6-30 shooting.
The Thunder also got a strong shooting performance from Kevin Durant, who finished with a game-high 30 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 5 assists, and Serge Ibaka, who came close to recording a triple double of his own. Ibaka finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 blocks.
The Bucks were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who finished with a team-high 29 points and 14 rebounds.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
We were very curious to see how the Thunder would come out on the 2nd leg of an away back-to-back game, especially since: a) their loss to the Timberwolves was a pathetic affair; and b) the Bucks are clinging to a playoff spot. We thought we had our answer early as the Thunder used a dominant defensive 3rd quarter to move out by 10 at the half. Despite the double-digit lead, a quick perusal of the box score told us that the Thunder were playing just well enough to be beating a sub-.500 team by 10, but no more. The Thunder were out-shooting the Bucks 53.7% to 31.5% from the floor, had recorded 15 team assists, and Durant in particular looked as if nothing could slow him down.
So why then was OKC only up by 10 points? Once again the defensive rebounding damaged OKC's performance. They gave up 12 offensive rebounds to the Bucks in the 1st half alone (19 for the game), missed 5 free throws, and got outworked in the paint by Ekpe Udoh, Ilyanova, and Larry Sanders.
The game took on the same complexion as the Timberwolves loss in the 3rd quarter when the Bucks exploded for 37 points. Even though the Bucks still were not shooting well overall, their 3-point shooting finally propelled them to some better offense as the Thunder gave up 4 of them and struggled to match the Bucks' shooting on their own end (OKC finished only 4-16 from the arc).
As the Thunder kicked off the 4th quarter by immediately falling behind by 5, the Thunder had to decide how they were going to finish. OKC responded by going on a 19-2 run over the next 7 minutes, flipping that deficit into a 12 point lead, all but finishing off Milwaukee. The Thunder held the Bucks to only 16 4th quarter points, reversing the bad 3rd quarter and sealing the game.
What does this game tell us about the playoffs?
This game was really about the two 2nd half quarters of play.
In the 3rd quarter, the Thunder allowed a mediocre Bucks squad to hang a lot of points on a defense that should take a little bit more pride than they did. While OKC still produced enough points in the quarter to be tied entering the 4th quarter, their soft play gave the Bucks an air of confidence that they really should not have had. Milwaukee shot only 37.8% from the floor for the entire game, and yet OKC had allowed them to hang around by crashing the offensive boards and hitting a few 3-pointers, thereby putting OKC in a precarious position.
The 4th quarter showed us however that good teams, teams that aspire to be elite, championship-contending teams, care about finishing well. When you have a team that is offensively loaded like OKC is, chasing down a lesser team is always within possibility as long as defense and quality possessions control the mindset. In this game, the Thunder finished well. They defended the rim (Ibaka had 8 blocks by himself), they defended the perimeter, as the Bucks guards produced only 27 points combined on 10-42 shooting, and they got the hands into Durant and Westbrook in spots where they could make plays.
4th quarters are the key, and it is an area where OKC has sometimes struggled to play their best ball this season. At least on this night, the Thunder regained their 4th quarter dominance and closed out a team that they should beat.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The strong finish aside, we again saw some interesting player rotations in this game. Here are the notable elements:
- Kendrick Perkins played only 18 minutes. OKC thought they had some interior match-up advantages with Perk on the bench and weren't afraid to sit him down.
- Ronnie Brewer finally got some extended time, playing 7 minutes on the night. While his impact wasn't huge, it was good to see Brooks at least giving him a look before the playoffs.
- Derek Fisher...Derek Fisher...it is a broken record, but we'd be remiss not to address the fact that Fish got 22 minutes of action tonight and for his opportunity recorded 2 points on 1-2 shooting. While Old Man Fish somehow recorded an Old Man Block, his production is simply woefully non-commensurate with his production as a shooting guard.
- The flip-side of the coin is that Thabo Sefolosha only got 17 minutes of action. Is his foot bothering him? I kind of hope it is a precautionary measure, because Thabo's offensive output warrants his place on the court more than it has been.
- Reggie Jackson got 7 minutes less than Fish despite the fact that "Better Basketball" is about 20 times more of an offensive threat than Fish.
|Final - 3.30.2013
|Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 23 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 16 points, 7 rebounds, 8 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Derek Fisher, 2 points in 22 minutes
Thunder Plunderer: Ersan Ilyasova, 29 points, 14 rebounds
Next game: vs San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, April 4th at 8:30PM CDT
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.