Quick Turnaround for Final Dance with the Deer
Date: February 28, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusWinners of a Thunder-record nine consecutive road games, the Thunder is now in search of win number 10 against the number one team in the East. On Thursday, the Thunder gutted out its second consecutive crunch-time win at home against Sacramento.
After accumulating an early 19-point deficit, the Thunder flipped a switch in the second half spurred by easy points at the free throw line and timely buckets down the stretch. The Thunder made aggressive drives to the rim which resulted in early entry into the bonus with 9:45 still remaining in the fourth quarter. The Thunder will look to maintain this intensity and aggressiveness in Fiserv Forum against the only team with 50 wins so far this season.
“We have a very competitive group. I think that they enjoy the challenge that is in front of them,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan.
Opponent BreakdownThis marks the second matchup of the season with the Thunder and the Bucks. In the previous tilt, the Thunder battled to the very end. After overcoming a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, OKC managed to bring the game to one point with seconds remaining on the clock. However, a big-time 3-pointer from Brook Lopez gave the Bucks the slight edge it needed to pull off a two-point win in Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are currently the only team in the league to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Led by the league’s reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks lead the league in several statistical categories including points (119.8) and rebounds (51.8) per game. With players like Khris Middleton on the perimeter who is the fifth ranked 3-point shooter in the league, the Bucks also sit at fourth in the NBA in total 3-pointers made this season.
“They’re obviously a great team, great personnel,” said Donovan. “It’s a quick turnaround. We’ve got a very competitive group. I know our guys will go out and they will really compete. Obviously, there is a lot we have to get prepared for and not having much time to get ready to do that, but right now, record-wise, they’re the best team in the league.”
Matchup FocusThe biggest matchup puzzle for the Thunder will be Antetokounmpo who, at 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds has the frame to be a center. However, his ball-handling and passing skills puts him in the role of lead facilitator for Milwaukee. This means it will be defense by committee for the Thunder. Rather than a typical one-on-one type of matchup, the Thunder will look to send multiple bodies in his direction and not leave anyone on an island guarding him.
Stat to WatchFast break points- The Bucks play at the fastest pace in the league while raking up the second most fast break points per game. The Thunder will look to control the tempo of the game by containing the ball in transition while taking care of the ball offensively.
On the other side of the ball, look for the Thunder to push the pace in transition. Missed shots lead to open floor opportunities for the Thunder who will look for quick hits in transition before the Milwaukee defense can get set.
Thunder TrendThe Thunder continue to lead the league in clutch wins this season. With 27 such wins under its belt, the Thunder is no stranger to late-game situations. Leading the charge is none other than 10-time All-Star, Chris Paul who leads the league in total clutch points this season with 140 while the next closest player has 109. With Paul at the helm, the Thunder approaches the fourth quarter with poise and calmness making the right plays and not getting rattled by opponent runs.
“It’s a really competitive group. I think as the games are going on they are smart enough and they understand things that when it’s not going well why, and things we got to do to get back in the game and they do a good job of refocusing themselves and getting themselves back where they need to be,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan.