By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC at MIL
The Big Picture
The Thunder’s two-game road trip kicked off in Milwaukee to take on the undefeated Bucks for the first time this season. Despite maintaining its composure early, the youngest team in the NBA fell to the league’s 2nd oldest team.
The Thunder has benefitted from its own continuity in the early going, as the team has leaned into an offensive and defensive identity from the outset of the season. Against a Bucks team with years of that continuity and internal understanding, the Thunder was able to hang tight after an early barrage in the first quarter, but the game started to slip away in the second period. Milwaukee’s 17 made threes and 18 offensive rebounds meant the Thunder attempted fewer field goals than its opponent for just the second time this season.
In the second half the Thunder and Bucks played to an even 41-41 score, with Milwaukee scoring just 2 points over the final 7:22 of regulation. Ultimately though, OKC just couldn’t chip the lead back down into single digits, falling 108-94.
Nick: Great game-to-game adjustment by the Thunder to navigate a hot start by the opposition. After falling behind 13-0 to Denver on Thursday because of some electric shooting by the Nuggets in the opening minutes, the Thunder dealt with the Bucks’ strong start on Saturday with more poise, tenacity and intentionality. Even though the Bucks hit four 3s on their first six possessions, the Thunder stayed in this one by forcing a turnover on defense, getting to the rim on offense and creating second chances. With a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander push shot and Josh Giddey 3 after an offensive rebound, the Thunder punched right back at the Bucks from the outset.
Paris: Prior to tonight’s game against the Bucks, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had six starts this season, all of which had been at the center spot. Tonight, with Mike Muscala in the starting five, JRE got his first minutes at the four spot for the Thunder and the 6-8 forward made the most of it. In the opening minutes of this game he knocked down a 3-pointer on a drive and kick, but then also took the much bigger Brook Lopez off the dribble and finished at the rim. By the end of the first, Robinson-Earl led the Thunder with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from deep.
Nick: Giddey made a nice secondary cut off the ball from the wing down into the lane for a layup while Dort drove the ball inside. Recognizing his surroundings, Dort dropped a pass off for his fellow guard, leading to a wide open basket. It was one of Dort’s career-high seven assists on the night. The culture of extra passes and off-ball movement has been building in Oklahoma City, and everyone on the floor can take part in either activity. As the Thunder fought to stay in the game against a veteran, undefeated Bucks team, plays like that one helped keep the OKC side of the scoreboard moving.
Paris: Ousmane Dieng stepped into the game in the third quarter and knocked down a 3-pointer in the very following possession. Just a few minutes later, Dieng rolled out of a ball screen, got the ball in the middle of the paint and whipped the ball out to the corner to a wide-open Darius Bazley who drained a 3-pointer. Before the quarter ended, Dieng cashed in another 3-pointer to add to his well-rounded night. Heading into the fourth quarter, the 19-year old forward strung together a solid six points, four assists and three rebounds on a perfect 2-for-2 from deep.
Nick: Mike Muscala showed his innate understanding of the Thunder’s offense and need to get to the rim. He cut to the rim and finished off a dunk plus the foul. In his first start of the season, Muscala helped the Thunder get a look at Robinson-Earl at the power forward spot against a larger starting lineup like Milwaukee. OKC is continuing to try out various player combinations, all good data points for the team moving forward.
Nick: Nice job by OKC to continually chip away, making this a 10-point game early in the fourth quarter. Giddey and Darius Bazley attacked downhill and Kenrich Williams hustled to track down loose balls to keep possessions alive for the Thunder. Ultimately that scratching and clawing wasn’t enough to complete the comeback.
Paris: Within 30 seconds of checking into the game, rookie big man Jaylin Williams steps in and takes a charge. On the very next play, Williams attacked the right side of the lane for a layup. After playing in the OKC Blue’s season opener the night before, J-Will demonstrated his readiness and adaptability to step into the game against Milwaukee and immediately make plays.
Quotes of the Night
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl on the game-to-game improvement …
“It's a long game. In the Denver game, that’s what we were just telling each other – this is a 48-minute game. They were shooting really well, but you’ve just got to trust the process and just keep playing…The same thing tonight, they were playing well offensively defensively, and and we were as well at the start, but they just kind of chipped away more on the defensive end than we did and just the offensive rebounds kind of hurt us a little bit and but, we'll come back tomorrow and just focus on the things we need to work on and then we have a game on Monday so we're ready for that.”
Mark Daingeault on the takeaways from the night…
“Playing against the best teams is a great opportunity because it's the most accurate barometer of where you're at. I thought against that team, you have to work to score and they make you work. It's why they're a great defense. I thought we had some nice attacks and nice possessions but not enough.”
The Thunder will have a day of practice on Sunday before taking on the Detroit Pistons on Monday evening.