Thunder Clinches Sixth Seed with Record-Setting Offensive Barrage - OKC 127, MIL 116
MILWAUKEE – The Thunder arrived in Milwaukee at 3 a.m. Tuesday night to play a rested, and resting, Bucks team. Paul George didn’t play due to shoulder soreness. Steven Adams played only 12 minutes after taking a hard fall and returning to action in the second half. No matter. In a competitive moment in the final regular season game of the 2018-19 campaign and playoff seeding on the line, the Thunder took care of business in a 127-116 victory on Wednesday night. The win secured the sixth seed in the Western Conference and a date with the Portland Trail Blazers this weekend in the first round.
“We wanted to finish out the year as well as we could have, and we did some really, really good things on both ends,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan.
This one started out a bit slowly for the Thunder, with a smaller Milwaukee squad sitting in a zone defense and attacking the Thunder in transition and on dribble up three-pointers for 31 first quarter points. In the second quarter, however, the Thunder found its stride. Using a 23-3 run behind an 11-for-18 three-point shooting start, the Thunder took control of the game defensively and ended up riding it out in the second half until it was much too little, too late for the Bucks.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 11, 2019
“We did a good job of getting on guys and making them shoot tough shots. It was beneficial to us,” said Russell Westbrook.
It was just intensity, getting steals, just playing with our hands. We did a great job with that,” added point guard Dennis Schröder.
Against a soft 2-3 zone defense, a scheme that the Bucks never play during the season, the Thunder got catch-and-shoot three-pointers from all over the floor and makes from 8 different players. Against short close outs by Milwaukee, Thunder players could line up three-pointers like they were at shootaround, without having to worry about whether they would have to attack off the dribble or make the next pass.
“We have a team that has a high basketball IQ, so we kind of picked apart the zone,” said Grant. “It’s definitely a different feeling. They short closed out a lot. We were just taking the shots that we had.”
“Just get in the teeth of the defense and find guys on open shots,” said Westbrook. “I just tried to get in the paint and find guys.”
The results were staggering for the Thunder, as Donovan’s club hit a Thunder record 23 made three-pointers on another Thunder record 40 assists. The main beneficiaries of the dishes were Schröder (a career-best 8 made threes for 32 points) and Jerami Grant (4-for-8 from three for a career-high 28 points).
“P (George) was out, so we had to get his back,” Schröder grinned, admitting he felt a little like George by taking 15 three-point attempts in the game.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 11, 2019
The Thunder built a 14-ppint lead off of that second quarter run, but that margin was cut to three points with 4:42 to go, as the game got a bit ragged and the pace swooned. As a response, the Thunder got five straight points off a Grant finish down low and then a corner three-pointer from Raymond Felton, who buried four three-pointers for 12 points to go with 7 assists off the bench.
Leading by 9 heading into the final frame, the Thunder did what good teams should do against a shorthanded opponent in a situation where winning or losing has implications: finish the job. By continuing to get stops, limit Milwaukee’s open looks and with some more hot shooting, including three-straight made threes by Schröder, the Thunder pushed the lead back out to 123-103 with just over four minutes to go.
Milwaukee had one final gasp remaining, pulling to within 11 after a 9-0 run, but just as it did when pressed against the ropes in the standings 10 days ago, Westbrook generated a response. The Thunder point guard attacked the rim and scored off the dribble, then later snagged a defensive board to close out a 15-point, 11-rebound, 17-assist triple-double, the 138th of his career and 34th this season to tie Magic Johnson for 2nd All-Time.
“It’s a blessing,” Westbrook said of the accomplishment.
Those late possessions also finalized the Thunder’s fifth-straight win, adding a nice burst of momentum heading into the postseason to strike back at a post-All-Star dip.
“We’re doing it together, as a team, on both ends,” Schröder said. “Defensively we’re doing a great job. Offensively we’re just generating good shots for each other. We have to keep that up in the playoffs.”
“We got competitors in this locker room,” Schröder added. “Good teams always respond. We do whatever it takes to go out there and compete and play with each other. We live with the result. Now the playoffs come and everybody is excited and everybody is ready to go to war.”