Low Scoring, Defensive Battle Falls
in Favor of Milwaukee
Game Recap: Thunder 85, Bucks 98
A strong start for the Thunder shifted massively in Milwaukee’s favor in the second and third quarters to build up a 22-point lead. Despite shaving the lead down to single digits in the final frame, the Bucks held off the Thunder for its first win in six games.
Two defensive-minded groups clashed in Fiserv Forum determined to make the other earn every single point they posted on the scoreboard. As a result, neither the Thunder nor the second-highest scoring team in the league in Milwaukee scored more than 100 points.
Both teams were fueled by motivation. Milwaukee – determined to snap its season-high five-game losing skid. The Thunder – fresh off of a loss to the Grizzlies that featured a low-energy defensive performance where it allowed Memphis to score 122 points.
“We weren’t the best version of ourselves [on Wednesday] against Memphis and I thought our guys really brought that intention to the game tonight,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault.
That defensive intention was on full display in the first frame where the Thunder held the Bucks to just 16 points on just 7-of-9 shooting from the field with only one made 3-pointer. However, the Thunder’s offensive rhythm wavered as well throughout the frame. After an initial burst where the Thunder knocked down three made 3-pointers and dished out three assists on its four made buckets, the well began to dry up. By the end of the quarter, the Thunder only led by four points.
“I thought we really competed and I thought our defense was really good tonight against a very potent offensive team,” said Daigneault. “We threw a pitch on that end of the floor that gave us a chance in that game and then just didn't have it offensively.”
After the slow start, the Bucks’ offense picked up in the second quarter thanks to 14 bench points and a flurry of offensive rebounds. Milwaukee posted a 30-point quarter to tilt the scales back in its favor. Even still, the Thunder only trailed by a mere four points at the break as it cashed in another four made 3-pointers and held Milwaukee to zero fast break points – an area where they lead the league.
“That was a big part of the game plan to get back as soon as we shoot the ball,” said Thunder guard Lu Dort. “We did a good job just getting back, packing the paint and making a crowd.”
The Bucks erupted on a 21-5 run that ballooned their lead from four at half time to 22 with just under five minutes remaining in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Thunder searched for its first made bucket of the quarter for the first eight minutes. In that time frame, all five of its points came from the free-throw line as squad trudged to generate some flow of offense.
“Their defense is just really, really paint protective. They were on point tonight. I give them a lot of credit,” said Daigneault. “They force you to settle for jump shots when they're in that mode and they're not giving you anything easy. I thought they did that to us tonight and I thought we had some looks at it that didn't go down.”
Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s offense caught its stride. Giannis Antetokounmpo logged nine points in the run, but it was Bryn Forbes off the bench who cashed in 10 points going 3-of-5 from the field and 2-of-3 from the 3-point line. In a game where points were hard to come by for both teams, a 21-5 swing proved decisive as the teams entered into the fourth quarter.
Armed with its no-excuse, zero-zero mentality, the Thunder opened up the final frame on an eyebrow-raising 24-9 run that cut its looming deficit down to single digits midway through the fourth quarter. The team built a strong shell in transition that limited Milwaukee’s easy fast break opportunities and remained aggressive on the other end of the floor, undeterred by the wide margin.
The fight and scrap were on full display with no better example than the three consecutive plays that resulted in jump balls because the Thunder’s defense refused to allow an easy look at the rim and remained disciplined enough to not foul.
Offensively, guys like Lu Dort, who finished with a team-high 17 points, relentlessly attacked the rim to open up opportunities offensively. As a result, the Thunder earned either valuable trips to the free-throw line or found open shooters behind the arc who knocked down shots.
“Offensively we really struggled shooting the ball and credit to them, they made adjustments defensively and really made it hard on us,” said Horford. “I felt like at that moment we moved the ball pretty well. We were able to get some good looks to go down. That's how we cut it to single digits.”
Despite cutting it to single digits, the Bucks margin proved to be too large to overcome in the amount of time the Thunder had to work with. Milwaukee kept the Thunder’s comeback efforts at bay with a steady stream of made baskets, though not at a high clip. By the end of it, the Thunder outscored Milwaukee 23-20 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to erase the consequential 22-point margin built up in the third.
“We were a play or two away from kind of getting ourselves back in the game there,” said Daigneault. “The defense, for the most part, save for maybe the beginning of the second half, was really on point tonight.”
Play of the Game
To open up the fourth quarter, the Thunder needed a burst of offense to break through the offensive slump that allowed Milwaukee to take command of the game. In its first play of the frame, Hamidou Diallo curled around Al Horford who had the ball stationed at the high post. As Diallo wrapped around the big man, his defender trailed on his backside leaving nothing but open air between the former NBA dunk champion and the rim. All it took was a precision pass from Horford for Diallo to finish off the play with a two-handed slam and inject some much-needed verve into the Thunder’s offense.
Stat of the Night98
Milwaukee averages just over 120 points each night. On Friday, the Thunder held the Bucks to its second-lowest point total of the season at just 98 points. After an uncharacteristic defensive performance against Memphis on Wednesday, the Thunder followed it up with a competitive, detailed-focused effort against the second-highest scoring offense in the league.
"After the Memphis game we all felt like we could have done better,” said Horford. “One of the things is coach expects us and challenges us to be better. Defensively I felt like we responded as a team and were much more connected. It was just offensively we just couldn't get it going."
Quotes of the Night
“We take pride on defense, myself and all of the guys on the team. We always take that as a challenge and compete our hardest.”
“I thought on [the defensive] end of the floor tonight we gave ourselves a chance to win the game just with our engagement and how hard we competed.” –Coach Daigneault
The Thunder will stay on the road for one more contest in which they’ll face the Cleveland Cavaliers at 6 p.m. CT. From there, the Thunder will return to OKC to host Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat at 8 p.m. CT.