MILWAUKEE – Seems like that suffocating Thunder defense from Saturday in Chicago may not have been a one-time only event. Again, against stiffer competition, the Thunder bunkered down and thoroughly dominated a talented Milwaukee Bucks club 110-91.
Finishing out a three-game Midwestern road swing strong, the Thunder burst out to a 16-0 run midway through the first quarter to build a 20-8 lead. During that stretch, the Thunder ripped off nine consecutive defensive stops, spearheaded by team defense that packed the paint, used length to make deflections and then communicated through a variety of Milwaukee actions.
“We did a good job there. We were fortunate a little bit in the first half,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “They had some relatively decent looks that didn’t go down. Sometimes that happens. Our effort to get out there and contest shots was a good thing.”
“It was just mainly a really good scout to be honest. Our assistant coaches scouted out their plays and we knew what we were giving up,” center Steven Adams echoed. “It was awareness. All the boys were really well aware of different players on their team.”
Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club was never truly threatened thanks to a 21-9 start to the second quarter as well, with the second unit of Carmelo Anthony (17 points) and Raymond Felton (9 points) controlling the action.
Amidst all of the player groupings in the first half, particularly the second quarter, the Thunder whipped the ball around the court and diced up the long, athletic, physical Bucks defense. Donovan was thrilled about the catch-and-shoot threes, downhill drives, lobs to a rolling Steven Adams and shot fake-drive-pass opportunities to create practice-style shot attempts. The result: 49.4 percent shooting for the game, including 12 made three-pointers on 28 attempts.
That first half, that’s how I would love to see us play,” Donovan stated.
“It’s the people that we have on the floor,” Adams noted. “It puts the defense in really tough bind. It’s either they’re giving up a three, closing out to a really good player or giving up a dunk.”
The engine on both ends for the Thunder was its leader, Russell Westbrook. His stat sheet was still familiar as he picked up 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in just 26 minutes of play. Westbrook sat the entire fourth quarter when the game was out of hand, but during the first three quarters, he was seemingly everywhere. His intensity was high, he pushed the pace and played with force on both ends of the floor. Westbrook was equally impressive pressuring the ball on defense, slashing to the lane for a kickout to Paul George and driving from the perimeter to the rim to turn a layup into a ferocious lefty slam dunk.
“(Westbrook) really set the stage right away from the beginning of the game. He just was dominant and imposing,” Donovan said. “He got a lot of hockey assists where he passed the ball and it led to something else. The competitive spirit and presence was there and it was really helpful for us, especially playing on the road.”
Highlights: Thunder at Bucks
Roberson’s Third-Quarter Impact
A new season and brand new teammates can be jarring at the beginning of the season, and it’s normal to have some growing pains as a group, and individuals too. Andre Roberson battled through that adjustment period, shook off some tough shooting nights and showed on Tuesday that he’s back to playing with confidence on both ends.
He started the game off with the assignment of guarding Giannis Antetokuonmpo, and did a nice job frustrating the Bucks’ superstar over the opening 24 minutes. In the third quarter, Roberson expanded his game into a variety of other areas. He came over in help side defense to make an acrobatic play on Bucks’ center Thon Maker to force a miss on what was a sure dunk and then hustled to make deflections in the passing lane.
He even got it going on the offensive end by knocking down a pair of free throws, hitting a three-pointer and scoring on a pair of cutting layups while the defense fell asleep on the back side. He finished with nine points, and three rebounds in 14 minutes, but his impact was much greater than the stat sheet showed.
“People haven’t seen how hard he’s worked,” Donovan said of Roberson. “He’s a great team guy. He puts the work in and when you have somebody like that you want to see him have some success.”
By the Numbers
17 – Points off the bench for Jerami Grant thanks to some great drives to the rim. He also added four rebounds, two assists, two steals and a huge drawn charge on Giannis Antetokuonmpo
18-4 – The Thunder’s edge in points in the paint in the decisive second quarter, as the Bucks were limited to just 32 paint points on 29 attempts
46-31 – Rebounding advantage for the Thunder on the night, leading to an 11-6 edge in second chance points
The Last Word
“We still keep the bigger picture in play. We treat these as one-off situations. It’s a good mindset to have and we’ll get better from this.” – center Steven Adams