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Payne explodes onto the scene as Thunder down Bucks, 131-123

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It wasn't a bad game from Enes Kanter either, as OKC's bench finally proved their worth.

And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet, when the wind comes right behind Cameron Payne!
And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet, when the wind comes right behind Cameron Payne!
W. Bennett Berry

The Bucks were able to push the Thunder to the brink, making every possession until the final minute count. But in the end, the Thunder were able to sit on a lead they had built in the early fourth quarter, and emerged triumphant 131-123. Without a doubt, the story of the game was Cameron Payne, who played his first game as OKC's full time backup point guard. Payne was ridiculously efficient in 16 minutes, scoring 16 points on 5 of 6 shooting. The scoring seemed to come from all areas, as Payne hit a three off the catch, a three off the stepback, and a couple of ridiculously tough floaters. Payne's floaters are definitely what makes his game special. Payne doesn't have to be on-balance to hit the floaters, and they're ridiculously high-arcing. Payne had 4 assists and no turnovers to go with his great scoring. The assists were nice to see, as Payne found Kanter and Morrow, both of whom need to be getting more touches. Even Payne's defense was nice to witness, as he made a consistent effort to keep his man away from the rim.

Enes Kanter was another big story off of OKC's bench, as he scored 23 points in 22 minutes, on just 12 shots. Kanter drew matchups with Miles Plumlee and John Henson. Neither could put up much of a resistance to Kanter's power game. Kanter was also effective on the offensive glass. Perhaps most importantly, Kanter didn't take any shots outside of the paint tonight. When the getting's good for Kanter, points will flow.

Of course, I can't forget about Westbrook's game to remember. It was one of those matchups where Westbrook's opponent (Michael Carter-Williams) had a clear physical advantage. But Westbrook, despite bumps along the road, out-gamed MCW in the end. The most clear moments in my mind are when Westbrook scored twice in the final two minutes of the fourth. The entire Bucks team knew the shot was coming both times. And Westbrook had two open men on each play that he could have passed to. But Westbrook just denied the laws of physics and scored both times.

westbrook2

westbrook1

Still, I do have to tip my hat to the way Michael Carter-Williams played Westbrook. Westbrook went to his patented backdown turnaround jumper more than once, and MCW denied it. I also remember MCW routinely out hustling-Westbrook for a few key offensive putbacks, as well as taking advantage when Westbrook left him wide open. When it's all said and done, MCW definitely had a more efficient game than Westbrook. But Westbrook produced when it mattered, and did all that he could to force the pace. I admire that Westbrook took 15 shots in the paint tonight, which is unusually high. I feel like it was an effort to keep the Bucks from getting back in transition.

Speaking of stars with mixed results, Kevin Durant was definitely one of them. Durant shot poorly from the floor (6 of 18), but also shot 13 free throws and made all of them. Also, Durant had a ridiculously high 8 assists, but had 4 turnovers to go along with them. If the +/- ratio is any indication, Durant finished at +1. Really, Durant just seemed to struggle from long range tonight. Durant got some of the open shots that he normally does, and I didn't see any spectacular defense from Antetokoumpo. But Durant pretty clearly couldn't get to the basket most of the time, and sometimes had trouble with pressure.

Box ScorePlay by PlayShot ChartPopcorn MachineThunder Raw Postgame InterviewsRussell Westbrook 27 Points Full HighlightsDurant vs. Antetokoumpo Duel HighlightsKhris Middleton Career High 36 Pts HighlightsCameron Payne 16 Pts Full HighlightsEnes Kanter 23 Pts Full HighlightsBucks Interim Coach Joe Prunty Post-Game

Why did Antetokoumpo and Middleton go off?

Both of those players fit a very specific mold offensively. Giannis loves to drive to the rim, especially when he's given space. If Giannis can't drive to the rim, he'll likely settle for an aggressive post up. This game was played at such a fast pace that is favored Giannis' style of play. When things slowed down and Giannis had to post up, he seemed to have more trouble. I was particularly impressed with how effective Morrow was against Giannis in the first half.

Middleton, on the other hand, is an expert shooter around screens. Middleton spent most of the game against the slower Andre Roberson, and could get whatever shot that he wanted. Some of Middleton's shots came in transition, but the reality is that Roberson was allowing easy threes off of short, quick passes. It took the Thunder until the fourth quarter to finally start doubling Middleton, and that's when the Bucks were able to have a lot of success moving the ball and getting to the rim.

Why did the Bucks lose this game?

Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker were basically kicked out of the starting lineup by the end of the game, because their performance was so bad. The Bucks particularly felt the bad play from Monroe during the second quarter, when the team only managed to score 23 points. Monroe was constantly trying to post up Adams, but missed a lot of tough shots. Jabari Parker had most of his struggles during the first quarter, and just had a bad shooting night. Parker missed a couple of wide open attempts, and met a lot of resistance when driving to the rim.

Basically, the Thunder forced the Bucks to re-tool at the half because the Thunder were extremely effective at protecting the rim. Milwaukee gave minutes to Rashad Vaughn and Miles Plumlee in the second half, despite the fact that they didn't play the first. John Henson also saw his minutes nearly doubled, while Parker and Monroe hit the bench. These changes made the Bucks a lot more athletic and rebounding oriented. Henson is certainly lighter on his feet than Monroe is. Meanwhile, the patchwork additions of Vaughn and Plumlee allowed the Bucks to basically play two bigs at a time, giving them a serious advantage on the boards.

Accordingly, the Bucks were able to secure a 26-16 advantage on the boards during the second half. The Bucks were also able to increase on their first half point total, scoring 69 as opposed to 44. Had Payne not kept OKC's bench up with heroics, this game could have turned out very badly.

Slammin' Notes

  • Dion Waiters was really deferential today, and I liked it. Waiters wasn't obsessed with making crazy passes as he usually is, and he passed up on a couple of stepbacks. In fact, all of Waiters missed shots were either at the rim or in the corner. Despite the poor shooting performance, I really admire the way Dion is changing his game.
  • Serge Ibaka was able to focus on defense tonight, and did a great job of locking down the paint. In fact, Serge was so focused on defense that he only took a single shot during the entire fourth quarter, a missed corner three. Glad Serge was able to get to the line, and get back to his old blocking ways. Also really loving the standstill floater that Ibaka's developing.
  • Anthony Morrow is paying now and needs to continue playing more. Threes galore!
  • Andre Roberson had a tough night overall, but hit a corner three and took his open shots with confidence. I'll count that as progress.
  • Nick Collison had an amazing spin move to score, and the whole arena erupted. Definite blast from the past there.
  • KD lost his shoe at one point in the first quarter, while making a dribble move. This meant KD had to settle for a three taken on one foot, and it missed. Play didn't stop, and KD had to scramble to put his shoe back on. Luckily, Giannis Atetokoumpo decided not to take advantage of KD on the other end. Eventually, play stopped and KD got his attire back in order. This is the third occurance of KD losing his shoe this season, if you're keeping track. Most notably, KD scored a mid-range basket against the Rockets with one shoe on Nov 2nd.
  • At one point, the bottom of the net frayed really badly. It meant that a long piece of string was hanging off of the net, potentially interrupting play. The refs had to stop the game. Some dude in a polo emerged from behind the scorers table with some scissors, and Steven Adams cut the string off.
  • I saw D.J. Augustin pretty solemn looking on the bench.

Marina's Awards:

Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, for sealing the game against all odds

Thunder Down Under: Cameron Payne, who's Cam-payne for minutes has ended

Thunder Blunder: Andre Roberson, because career highs from Middleton don't happen every night

Thunder Plunderer: Khris Middleton, who will probably continue to antagonize OKC for years to come

Next Game: Versus the Phoenix Suns, Thursday, December 31st, 7 PM Central Standard Time.

What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!