The Big Picture
Neither a 20-point deficit, a different head coach nor the opposition of the reigning NBA champions could thwart OKC’s competitive spirit inside of Fiserv Forum on Friday. A stubborn defensive effort coupled with collective offensive contributions allowed the resilient Thunder to force the Bucks in to a one-possession ball game in the final minutes of the matchup. Though the Thunder fell 96-89, it was a comeback effort and a defensive effort the group took pride in.
Moments from the 48
It was a decisive first quarter that helped build Milwaukee’s comfortable 20-point lead in the ball game. The Bucks landed the first punch with a 13-0 run before the Thunder’s first bucket of the night. However, after the lopsided 34-24 first frame, the Thunder outscored Milwaukee 65-62 over the final three.
The Thunder’s comeback was fueled on the defensive end as OKC held the Bucks to just 16 total points in the fourth frame on 26 percent shooting from the field. Meanwhile, the Thunder’s kept the scoreboard moving as five different players cashed in a 3-pointer in the final frame.
A 3-pointer by Kenrich Williams with eight minutes left made it a 2-point game for the first time of the night and for the following seven minutes, the Thunder responded bucket for bucket with Milwaukee who left the door open for the Thunder to potentially take the lead on multiple possessions. It wasn’t until Giannis Antetokounmpo sank a turnaround midrange jumper with 28 seconds left, that the door closed as the Thunder couldn’t respond on the other end.
“We’re a young team, we have a lot of flaws, but the thing about this team that I love and I think everyone is going to grow to love is that we have absolutely no quit in us,” said Thunder guard Ty Jerome. “That’s a hell of a team that we played tonight and we were down 20 in the third, they started the game and punched us in the mouth right away. We have no quit no matter who’s on the floor. Just no quit.”
Dave Bliss at the Helm
The Thunder had a different look on the sidelines. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault didn’t travel with the team on its three-game road trip as he and his wife are expecting their first child. Assistant coach Dave Bliss stepped up at the help in his absence and logged his first head coaching opportunity after a collective nine years with the Thunder organization.
“First and foremost just extremely honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to sit in that seat,” said Bliss pregame. “It's not something I take for granted and certainly a dream for anyone who enters the coaching profession to be head coach of an NBA game. Super exciting.”
“It was fun. He did a great job and the guys rallied around him,” said Muscala. “He made a point of that when Mark let us know that he wasn’t going to be here that it takes a collective effort. A lot of our same principles applied tonight. I was happy for him. He did a good job.”
Bliss, who is from Wisconsin, had the chance to not only coach the game, but do so in front of loved ones as his father, brother and best friend from high school were all in attendance.
“It was just gave me a good feeling to see them up there,” said Bliss. “It's not a not a ton of social time on these trips, but just having that support, it's pretty unique.”
Nobody can prevent you from giving your best out there... that's what we've been preaching since day one. -Dave Bliss pic.twitter.com/mppEbtJAZj— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 20, 2021
Giddey Gets Double-Double
With his 14-point, 12-rebound performance on Friday, Thunder rookie Josh Giddey recorded his third double-double of his career. The effort ties the third most double-doubles by a rookie in OKC history and makes him just the third Thunder rookie ever with back-to-back double-doubles.
Of Giddey’s 12 rebounds, six of them were on the offensive glass. The 6-foot-9 guard timed his attacks on the glass, searching for opportune moments to scoop up an extra possession for the group throughout the night.
“Getting extra possessions for our team. I think it's critical. The more possessions we can have in games and bigger the chance of winning the game is,” said Giddey. “I was in the corner a lot of the time so just kind of reading where the ball is bouncing and if my defender wasn't boxing me out, I was going to the glass.”
“His instincts, his feel for the game, picking his spots. He's not going in there every time, but really situationally he’s seeing how the floor is balanced,” said Bliss. “He's gotten a lot sharper as well with that decision making piece of how the floor spaced and when he can go without giving them transition.”
Blocks by Baze
Throughout the season Thunder forward Darius Bazley has logged incredibly valuable minutes defending some of the league’s top, high-volume scorers. On Friday, he added to that list going up against two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Bazley, who leads the Thunder in total blocks, swatted away three shots against Milwaukee – all of which belonged to the Greek Freak.
Though Antetokounmpo finished the game with 21 points, the aggressiveness shown by Bazley against one of the highest-caliber players in the league spoke to the strides he’s taken as a defender this season.
“He was really good,” said Bliss. “He's played him a couple of times now in he's young career and it's a huge development piece for him. He’s got a good motor out there. He's got great length and quickness and he's got good toughness and more strength than you think he does.”
“The growth he’s had defensively this year has been phenomenal,” said Thunder guard Ty Jerome. “Watching him and his alertness off the ball, on the ball, his rebounding. He’s been one of our best defensive players and when you put that on the floor with Lu and all of us who know how to play team defense, we can guard.”
Blocks by Bazley™️ pic.twitter.com/8EY43YDrDQ— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 20, 2021
Reserves at the Ready
It took a collective effort on both ends of the floor for the Thunder to turn the ball game in its favor on Friday night. The Thunder’s reliable second unit stepped into the match and outscored Milwaukee’s reserves 37-21 as every player to check into the game for OKC off the bench scored. Veteran Mike Muscala and third-year guard Ty Jerome led the way in the scoring column as they both chipped in double figures with 14 and 10 points respectively.
“That's the job,” said Jerome. “Musky is always ready and that’s something I try to pride myself on this year is to try to be efficient in short minutes. It's not easy, but it's the job.”
The Last Word
Dave Bliss on what the resilient effort says about the group…
“It just speaks to the values and what we're preaching every day… We know that those guys have a lot of skill and a lot of ability and they play really well together, but they can't stop us from playing a good game and putting our best effort out there. So that's what we've been preaching since day one. That's a tip of the cap to all the Thunder people who have come before us as well. That didn't start now.”
It’s just one night of rest ahead of the Thunder before the team hits the hardwood again, this time in Boston. OKC will continue its Eastern Conference road trip against the Celtics on Saturday and conclude the trip in Atlanta on Monday.