The Oklahoma City Thunder held on in the fourth quarter for a much needed win on the road at the Milwaukee Bucks, 104-96. The craziest thing about the win is that the Thunder weren't able to generate any points in the last three minutes, aside from free throws on intentional fouls. OKC was able to stay ahead late because they managed the game well, despite three late turnovers that led directly to Bucks points.
I'm not painting a favorable picture here. It's really easy to fall into that narrative of, "oh, the Thunder are a team that builds leads early but fades in the fourth quarter." But to say that would be a dis-service to the fact that the Thunder limited the Bucks to 17 fourth quarter points. Jabari Parker was 2 of 6, as Ibaka and Adams forced him away from the rim. Greg Monroe was 1 of 4, as Kanter kept him honest down low. Even Westbrook had a block on Monroe, streaking in from behind. Giannis Antetokoumpo also floundered in the fourth, shooting 1 of 5. This was a combined effort of Singler and Waiters to keep him away from the rim. KD also intimidated a Giannis jumper around a screen.
But the best part about OKC's fourth quarter defensive stand? Khris Middleton was really hot going into the fourth, having scored 9 points in the third. Indeed, Middleton is an old bugaboo for the Thunder, having scored 36 points against OKC back on December 29th. But after a transition three at the 11:22 mark, Middleton wouldn't score again. In fact, Middleton would only take two more shots, both missed threes. One was a missed weak side three, while the other three was intimidated by Adams in transition. OKC definitely did what was necessary to stop disaster.
On the other hand, the Thunder's offense left a lot to be desired. Three turnovers in the last three minutes for six points. All of them came different ways. One was Waiters and KD failing to take a shot in transition, and losing the ball overpassing to each other. Another turnover came from Westbrook, as he threw the ball trying to find KD out of a triple team. The last turnover was KD trying to find Adams on the roll.
The Thunder's stars took what the Buck defense gave them
Russell Westbrook had 1 shot and 8 assists at the end of the first half. The Bucks were really trying to pressure and take away Westbrook's shot early. Westbrook's second half wasn't much more offensively active, as he took 6 shots. Most of what Russ did attempt in the second half was forced or opportunistic. A corner three. A three at the end of the shot clock. A pull-up cotton shot. And a in-between angle-jumper. Aside from one explosive Westbrook drive to the rim, we really didn't see the same level of shooting from him.
Westbrook's assists were mostly to the big men freed up by Russ' forays into the paint. 4 to Adams, 3 to Ibaka, 2 to Kanter, 1 to KD, 1 to Waiters. Generally, Westbrook's 7 turnovers were him trying to force the ball too hard to the bigs in the paint, when the Bucks were able to commit an extra man. But Westbrook lost the ball at least once as well. Overall I'd give his game a B to B plus on the Russ scale. Wasn't much for Westbrook to do defensively, as he was matched up with Jerryd Bayless. Bayless had just 4 shots, and wasn't found a lot off ball. Early in the game, Westbrook was on Mayo, who had just three shots. A couple of those were deep chucks.
Kevin Durant's had a decently efficient 26 points, and an acceptable ratio of 8 assists to 4 turnovers. Crazy part is, Durant had a season high 18 free throws and just two shots inside the paint. The Bucks threw Giannis and Middleton at Durant at different points of the game, and did everything they could to be physical and keep Durant out of the paint. Durant responded by taking 9 threes, hitting four of them. The Bucks were so obsessed with protecting the rim in general that they'd sometimes leave KD open. That's not to say KD didn't just pull up a couple of times.
Durant's assists were as follows: 3 to Singler, 2 to Kanter, 1 to Adams, 1 to Ibaka, 1 to Roberson. Singler and Kanter have had some trouble becoming a regular part of the offense lately, so it's to KD's credit that he was able to get them assists. Singler was good in transition and hit a three, while Kanter did his usual thing of scoring at the rimm and shooting off of screens. Defensively, KD wasn't much of a presence. KD was supposed to guard Antetokoumpo, but switched onto other defenders often. And Giannis did most of his scoring in transition.
- Ibaka played a really solid game overall, scoring 14 points of 5 of 11 shooting. Ibaka was 1 of 4 from three, but you'll take that when he's 4 of 4 from mid-range. Ibaka also had one dunk in transition at the rim. Defensively, Ibaka had a mixed night guarding Jabari Parker. A couple times in the first half, Parker was able to catch Ibaka backpedaling and get to the rim. But besides that, Parker had to take all of his shots from 7 feet out or more. For the whole match, Parker was 12 of 23. Ibaka vs. Parker was a game of spacing. Most of the time Ibaka would give up the jumper to protect the rim, it was just a matter of whether Parker would make it or not.
- Steven Adams was probably the best example of how the Bucks did everything they could to double Westbrook and KD. Why? Adams took 13 shots tonight, which ties for the highest shots taken total of his career. Adams would finish the game with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. Probably one of Adams' best overall performances. On offense, Adams contributed 6 points to the Thunder's early 22-4 run. All of Adams baskets came in the paint when he was left open on the roll or otherwise, but three of his makes were from the 7 to 12 foot range. Really nice to see Adams' flip shot continue to get better and better. Defensively, Adams had four stops at the rim during the first quarter. Adams also wrapped up Monroe whenever they had to face off, making Milwaukee lose that offensive option.
- Andre Roberson had a three really early. I don't remember when his miss came, but he was really quiet after being a part of that early defensive stand. Still really confusing to see Donovan not go to Roberson after his initial first and third quarter stretches though. Guess Middleton wasn't enough of a threat.
- After much struggling, Kyle Singler seems to have found a niche. Singler likes cutting in for these short, stop and pop push shots. It's almost like what Adams does, but it's not off of a pick. It's been pretty hard to tell what Singler was trying to do when he cut to the basket before tonight. Defensively, I saw Singler stop Giannis once, let Giannis by once, steal a pas, stop a middleton layup, stop a Ennis layup, and let Parker make a mid-range shot. Overall, Singler was definitely a plus.
- Enes Kanter was nearly perfect on the night, save for a missed shot in the lane and a badly airballed three. The pick and pop game appears to be coming more naturally to Kanter, and I appreciate KD's ability to find Kanter down low. Kanter's defense was mediocre, as he stopped a couple drives but also let Monroe score a couple of times. Monroe was able to get 6 offensive rebounds, many of them against Kanter. Still, the effort is there, and that's what I like to see.
- Randy Foye played 15 minutes and missed four shots. There obviously aren't any plays set up for Foye, and he's being given the ball in some tough spots. One of Foye's misses was at the end of the shot clock, and another was an end of quarter cross-court heave. The other two Foye misses were disheartening though, as he bricked a corner three as well as an ill-advised pull up three in transition. Couple of nice assists to KD and Kanter, both during broken plays. Defensively, Foye wasn't really a factor one way or the other. Here's hoping OKC finds a way to get this guy the ball.
- Dion Waiters had a wreck of a game. 2 points on a weak side cut during the early first quarter run, and then 0 of 7 after that. Three missed open threes. Three shots missed in the paint, and one stepback missed with his foot on the line. Mostly, Waiters just couldn't find anything down low, and couldn't deal with Giannis in one on one situations. Waiters was appropriately deferential though, and made a couple of more nice swing passes than his 2 assists would indicate. Very Harden-esque there. Defensively Waiters had a couple stops on Giannis post ups, as well as a Vaughn drive and Parker drive. Giannis got by Dion once that I saw. So really things weren't totally terrible for Dion, but it's continually aggravating to see him hit shots at such a low percentage.
- Morrow got token minutes at the end of the game.
- 40 minutes for KD, 39 minutes for Russ. No, no, no. NO!
- Cameron Payne didn't play again and I'm still disappointed.
- The Thunder shot just 28% from three, which is also disappointing.
- The Thunder got to the line 43 times, way over their season average of 25. I'd chalk it up to aggressiveness in the paint, and the Bucks willingness to foul down low.
- The Thunder only forced 10 turnovers, with the Bucks primarily running Giannis at PG. I miss when the Thunder were good at doing that. But protecting the rim and protecting threes appears to be the Thunder's M.O. this year. Speaking of, the Bucks just shot 15.3% from three tonight. Not surprising from the team with the worst three point attempt rate in the league though.
- I might sound sour, but this was really a much needed win heading into Thursday's re-match with the Clippers. Hopefully OKC's defensive sturdiness will translate.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who actually filled the role of a backup point guard well tonight
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, I apologize for understating your trip-dub
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, please make your shots
Thunder Plunderer: Giannis Antetokoumpo, jack of all trades and master fast break dunksman
Next Game: Versus the Los Angeles Clippers, Wednesday, March 9th, 8:30 PM Central Standard Time.
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