False Start, Missed Call Sink Thunder – OKC 95, MIL 97

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

An astonishing would-be Thunder comeback was thwarted in the final seconds on Friday night, as Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped out of bounds, and possibly traveled, on a driving dunk with 0.9 seconds remaining to break the game’s only tie and clinch a 97-95 loss for Oklahoma City.

If the Thunder could have just capped it off with one more stop and one more point, tonight would have marked the largest comeback in Oklahoma City history. After falling behind 18-3 during a flat opening six minutes, the Thunder eventually trailed by 22 in the first quarter before snapping back into action. Playing without Paul George who missed the game with knee soreness, there was a noticeable feeling out period for the Thunder early, and despite the controversial ending, the massive deficit in the first quarter was the true culprit in the defeat tonight.

“We dug ourselves too big of a hole,” point guard Russell Westbrook said.

“We came out flat, not a lot of energy,” forward Josh Huestis added. “We didn’t look like ourselves.”

Milwaukee scored 38 points in the first quarter, but only scored 59 the rest of the game. The Thunder’s defense locked down and began playing with more physicality, starting with a second unit charge started by Raymond Felton, then capped by an 11-1 burst that included eight points from Westbrook.

“We tried to change the game. Defensively is how we get back into the game,” Westbrook explained. “We did a good job of sticking to our principles and getting stops.”

The deficit was a manageable 14 heading into halftime, where the Thunder emerged from the locker room with an 18-7 burst, playing with physicality to re-set the standard for the game. The Thunder picked up four quick fouls in the first 2:50 of the third period, but getting Milwaukee out of rhythm and preventing the Bucks from running freely paid dividends. After allowing just a 15-point period coming out of the halftime break, the Thunder’s deficit was just six heading into the final frame.

“When we went forward and decided to be more physical, we did it in a way that we could control the game without fouling,” Huestis explained.

The Thunder had chipped the lead down to three in the third, and the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd almost combusted after a ridiculous Westbrook dunk. After a series of drives and dishes back out to the perimeter, Westbrook caught the ball at the left elbow from Raymond Felton, turned the corner and blasted a one-handed dunk on top of 7-foot-1 Thon Maker’s head.

“I do that,” Westbrook shrugged. “That’s what I do.”

But Milwaukee had another punch to throw, slapping Oklahoma City with a 10-2 run in the first three minutes. That’s around the time Westbrook checked back in, and the reigning MVP immediately went to work, finding Jerami Grant for a transition dunk and hitting one of his signature midrange jumpers to get the Thunder back into it.

As the game seeped into crunch time, Westbrook continued to make plays, and the Thunder’s defense got stops, albeit not as many as it did in the third quarter. The Thunder floor general hit Carmelo Anthony for three with 4:33 to go, then knocked down a catch-and-shoot three of his own with 3:21 remaining to cut the deficit back down to four points.

“We did a great job of kind of sticking with it, getting back to the way we want to play, the way we normally play,” Anthony said.

With all the momentum, the Thunder missed on some opportunities to get back to even earlier. Five free throws were left out there as Felton and Westbrook combined to miss four in a row, and a Steven Adams free throw was negated by a lane violation. Still, the Thunder trailed by just five after an Eric Bledsoe 21-foot jumper with 19.9 seconds to go, which was just enough time for some Westbrook magic.

First came the quick two, a driving dunk down the left side by Westbrook. Then came the crucial bit of help the Thunder needed, as Bledsoe missed both of his free throws with 10.5 seconds to go. Out of the Thunder’s final timeout of the game, Felton found Westbrook along the right wing, and the Thunder’s crunch-time phenom dribbled into a 27-foot three-pointer to tie the game at 95, giving him 40 points on 16-for-34 shooting, plus 14 rebounds and nine assists. That was the first moment the Bucks hadn’t led in this one since the opening tip, and Oklahoma City had all the momentum.

Defensive stopper Andre Roberson had to leave the game due to an injury in those closing moments, but Josh Huestis, who stepped up in a big way defensively accepted the challenge of guarding Antetokounmpo on the final possession. In the right corner, Huestis forced Antetokounmpo to go baseline, and as the Bucks forward picked up his dribble, he very clearly stepped on the baseline out of bounds. Two more steps and he was around Huestis and at the rim, dropping the ball in the net, leaving the Thunder with too little time to get more than a prayer at the buzzer.

“It sucks. It hurts,” Felton said. “But we have another one on Sunday so we have to put it behind us quick.”

“They made a dunk and won the game,” Westbrook noted stoically. “It’s over now.”

Thunder-Bucks Highights:

By the Numbers

12-for-20 – The Thunder’s free throw shooting on the night, including just 4-for-8 in the fourth quarter

32-13 – The Thunder’s advantage in bench points, as the reserves shot 13-for-21 for the game

40 – Points for Russell Westbrook on 16-for-34 shooting plus 14 rebounds and nine assists

The Last Word

“We can’t do nothing about that at this point. We might as well forget about it, move on and get ready for Dallas.” – forward Carmelo Anthony


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