Bringing the Competitiveness Back Home to Host the Bucks
Date: Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After three hard-fought contests on the road, the Thunder returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena for a two-game home stand. In its three road contests, OKC took steps toward improvement with each matchup and despite falling short in each of them, the squad brought each game against the Lakers and the Nuggets down to the final moments.
“There are going to be nights like that, but the main thing you want to focus on is the way you can compete,” said Kenrich Williams. “I think the past three games, although we didn't win I thought we came out and competed.”
In an example of the Thunder’s commitment to improvement, in its most recent tilt on Friday against Denver the team entered into the game with an emphasis on controlling the defensive glass. The first time OKC faced Denver it allowed 32 second-chance points off 18 offensive rebounds. On Friday, the Thunder executed defensively to finish each play with a rebound. By the end of the night, Denver only recorded eight second-chance points on seven offensive rebounds.
“I think our guys understood that we needed to have more of a presence,” said Thunder forward Al Horford. “They're a great rebounding team and we came out [on Friday] and our guards did a really good job crashing, getting in there and rebounding. “
“The fact that we won the whole rebounding game. And also kept them off the offensive glass as much as we could. I mean, that's something huge to take away, and now we just have to continue to build on that and continue to do that in each game.
The Thunder was led offensively by fourth year forward Justin Jackson who recorded a team-high 20 points off of the bench. After falling in and out of the rotation throughout the season, Jackson has stepped into the lineup over the past six games averaging 26.9 minutes and 10.0 points per game.
Thunder big man Al Horford also played a pivotal role in the Thunder’s recent games. Most recently, Horford jumpstarted the Thunder offense with 12 early points on 5-of-6 shooting. His effort boosted the team to its sixth straight game leading after the first quarter. Over those six games, OKC ranks first in the league in first quarter point differential (+9.2) and fourth in points averaging 32.3 in the first frame.
The 16-10 Bucks enter into Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday after dropping two consecutive games, the most recent against Utah on Friday. The Bucks hold the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and are led by two-time NBA MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo who is averaging 28.1 points and 11.2 rebounds so far this season. Milwaukee also receives massive contributions from 6-foot-7 forward Khris Middleton who chips in 20.6 points on 51.3 percent shooting from the field and 45.1 percent from the 3-point line.
Offensively, the Bucks sit in the top three in the league in six statistical categories including the number one ranking in offensive rating (119.2), points per game (121.1) and fast break points (16.5). This will require a full, 48-minute defensive performance from the Thunder to slow down the high-powered offense of the Bucks.
In the Thunder’s matchup against Denver, the energy and effort on the defensive end allowed the squad to become just the second team this season to hold the Nuggets below 100 points. Once again, the Thunder will be facing a team who lives above the century mark in scoring. Milwaukee sits atop the league in points per game and has scored over 120 points in a league-leading 16 games this season.
It is going to take another collective, high-energy defensive performance by the Thunder to make each look for Milwaukee as difficult as possible.
Stat to Watch
Fast-Break Points — While the Bucks lead the league in fast-break points per game with 16.5, both OKC and Milwaukee are tied for the fewest fast-break points allowed per game (9.7). Limiting fast-break points starts with taking care of the ball and generating high-quality looks offensively, but also be on the lookout for a high-energy defensive effort to get back in transition and get into position early to limit the Bucks’ easy looks.
In each of its three road games, Oklahoma City received contributions from every single player to step on the floor who contributed in a much-needed way. One of the most prominent contributions came from Kenrich Williams, who recorded career highs in various statistical categories in each of the three contests. After recording a career-high in offensive rebounds (6) on Monday, Williams followed up the performance with a career-high 24 points on Wednesday. Most recently, he dished out nine assists on Friday against Denver. Whatever the team needed from Kenny Hustle that night, he delivered.
“Kenrich can do a little bit of everything,” said Jackson “He's a great basketball player and I think seeing him in the last few games, his aggression when it comes to the offensive end whether it is having 24 points or having nine assists, that's just from him going out there and being aggressive, and we love to see that.”