- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
MILWAUKEE – 34.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists per game. Those sound familiar? They’re a good part of the way towards the averages that Russell Westbrook put up in 2016-17, an MVP season unlike any in recent memory with a 30-point, triple-double average. This season, through six games, that’s what Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging, and he and the Bucks are next up on the Thunder’s schedule.
Milwaukee has a variety of players who can hurt the opposition from a number of positions, including the league’s reigning Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, at the point guard spot. Khris Middleton and Tony Snell stalk the perimeter and Greg Monroe throws his weight around in the paint. But it’s Antetokounmpo who is flashing all over the floor, scoring and playmaking from every spot on the floor.
Watch: Coach Donovan at Shootaround
“(Antetokounmpo’s) confidence level appears to be really, really high and I think probably his normal maturation and growth as a player in where he is now, he’s physically stronger,” Donovan reported. “He’s a unique player because he can play over the top of everybody. When he gets into areas of the floor, even if you come and trap and help, he still shoots over it.”
“He causes so many different types of matchups. (Bucks Head Coach) Jason Kidd does a great job of moving him around, forcing teams to make adjustments,” veteran Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony said. “You just never know where he’s going to be on the court or what to expect. It’s going to take a big team effort to try to stop him and try to stop them as a team. He’s their motor. If we can control that, we’ll be good.”
Anthony, who played against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference with much more frequency than the Thunder does on a yearly basis, has become familiar with Antetokounmpo’s game, and how the Bucks’ coaching staff likes to deploy him. In particular, Anthony noted that the Bucks like to force defenses to switch point guards or centers onto their franchise cornerstone. That means that everyone from Russell Westbrook to Steven Adams has to be ready to defend, and do so as a unit.
“With guys that can get to the paint as much as old mate does, that just comes down to the discipline of everyone being really aggressive on him,” Adams explained, utilizing his favorite catch all term “old mate” in reference to Antetokounmpo. “You’re still going to do the same stuff, it isn’t going to be crazy changes. You just have to be a lot more aggressive with it. The back side has to be really aware and sharp. Dudes like that find everyone on the whole team.”
“Even though he’s playing at a high level right now, our focus will be as a unit to stop him. It’s not going to take one person to be able to stop him,” Anthony echoed. “It’s going to be us as a team sticking to our defensive principles, not altering that. If he gets it going, we’ll make adjustments throughout the course of the game but we come into the game with our agenda, our principles and we’re not going to change that.”
The Thunder is coming off of its best defensive performance of the season, in which it held the Chicago Bulls to just 69 points and _ percent shooting. So far this season, the Thunder ranks in the top ten in points allowed at 96.5, opponent field goal percentage (41.9 percent), opponent three-point percentage (32.5 percent), steals (11.5) and blocks (7.0).
Raymond Felton at Shootaround
There’s still plenty of things to work out on that side of the floor, and it’ll be an ongoing process for the Thunder to identify areas of growth and improvement. But for the matchup against Milwaukee, the Thunder hopes it can tap into what made it so successful on Saturday in the Windy City.
“Throughout the season you figure out which coverages best fit your personnel,” Westbrook noted. “We’re still figuring that out.”
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– On Saturday night, the Thunder led by 29 with 1:54 to go in the third quarter when a turnover resulted in a Chicago Bulls two-on-one fast break. There was only one Thunder player remotely close to the play, and it was a good thing it was guard Andre Roberson. Instead of giving up an easy bucket in the second half of a blowout win, Roberson hustled back down floor, blocked a layup try, blew up the Bulls’ advantage situation and held down the fort until his teammates arrived. It was a small moment, but as Roberson gets back into rhythm and builds more confidence, plays like that are a reminder of his defensive prowess, and value, for the Thunder.
- “He just has to keep fighting and battling,” Donovan said of Roberson. “He knows that everybody in that room has confidence and belief in him.”
– This Thunder-Bucks game comes on Halloween, so Thunder fans be sure to tune into Fox Sports Oklahoma to check out if there are any spooky surprises in the arena here in Milwaukee. On Monday, Carmelo Anthony disclosed some of his favorite Halloween memories as a child, and recalled that he typically went as a superhero: Batman, Superman or Spiderman mostly.
- “My favorite memory was going neighborhood to neighborhood, from house to house coming back with one of those plastic pumpkins full of candy,” Anthony grinned. “Trying to hide some of the candy from my mother.”