Game in Review: Milwaukee Bucks @ Oklahoma City Thunder – December 30


Heading to Oklahoma didn’t help fix the Milwaukee Bucks’ losing ways as team drops to Oklahoma City Thunder as both teams put on offensive showcase.

Starting Lineups – Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Carter-Williams, Khris MiddletonGiannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe

Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams

Coming into tonight, it would take a minor miracle of sorts for the Milwaukee Bucks to keep their first meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder on the year a competitive one, especially with the return of the dual-headed beast that is the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant pairing. With both players returning to previous years’ form, the perfect performance would be really the only thing keeping Milwaukee in things tonight.

Perhaps some good news foretold of a positive evening with the purported return of John Henson from injury:

Of course, the return of Henson would matter little if the starting unit couldn’t keep things close, so keeping an eye locked on their efforts early would prove to be the critical viewing experience from tip-off.

A sight for sore eyes? Giannis Antetokounmpo getting things going very early and very aggressively showing a lack of fear driving and moving with the ball in traffic to attack the rim. A sampling:

From there on out, Milwaukee’s attack was largely focused on the interior (a recipe seen throughout the year). High tempo play was also on display for both sides, and porous defense helped in a big way to ensure that the first quarter would render a big scoring line.

Oddly enough, with as well as Giannis and Jabari Parker were playing early, the team appeared to go away from those two for a stretch. Keeping those two going should normally be a focus for the team as a whole, and this change in pace wasn’t fantastic to see.

Some uncharacteristically okay offense, coupled with characteristically poor defense kept the game close, but a 31-23 lead for Milwaukee was vaporized late, ensuring only the slimmest of leads after the first, 31-30.

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Giannis was set to lead the bench unit into the second quarter, and he made his presence felt right away thanks to an and-1 layup to give the Bucks a little breathing room. Cameron Payne for OKC kept the Thunder offense purring, though, especially with a nice floater and by drawing a few shooting fouls.

Oddly enough, the flow of the game began to favor the Thunder in part thanks to good positioning on the part of Enes Kanter to pour in plenty of put-back points. The Bucks began their scrambling defense, and it resulted in horribly wide-open shots for OKC as they began to extend their lead.

Kevin Durant began to take over, and the Bucks began to miss shots. Like, a lot of shots. For the most part, offense bogged down into a series of contested mid-range jumpers and passing up open shots for something a bit less desirable. Khris Middleton and Giannis guided the team through the rest of the quarter to keep things reasonable, 65-54.

If there was going to be a chance in the second half, the starters would have to step up in a bigger way to try to build on the reasonable performance the bench had put together up until then.

Much like last night, unfortunately, the Bucks were a bit cold out of the break, however, only managing six points in the first five minutes of the 3rd quarter. A couple of timely forced turnovers and much-needed shooting from outside courtesy of O.J. Mayo and Middleton brought a laugher into something a bit more winnable, especially when the Bucks reduced the lead to a simple 86-88 advantage for OKC.

Khris especially went off in the second, providing an offensive spark with 13-22 shooting (including a 6-9 performance from three) on his way to a 34 point and seven assist night. For Milwaukee, however, it looked like a night often of too little too late, especially as the Thunder piled up the offensive rebounds late when stops were needed to get even an attempt at a win.

Durant and Westbrook made their impact felt as well throughout the evening, taking advantage of either plenty of fast break opportunities (in the case of Russell) or poor defensive mismatches (like Durant on Jabari Parker). Even with their solid performances, including 26 and 27 point nights for each, the Bucks were only down seven with roughly 2:01 left thanks to a Giannis tip-in. Michael Carter-Williams got things going with this steal-dunk:

Much like has been the case in other tight ones down the stretch, especially on the road, the Bucks just weren’t able to conjure up enough defensive clout to go along with a surprisingly effective offensive night (not often the team gets over 100, much less 120!). Free throws iced the game for the Thunder, and the Bucks lost once more a game they were largely in at the end of regulation, and they drop to an uninspiring 12-21 on the year.

149. 123. 89. Final. 131

The one solid takeaway from tonight? Giannis got things going for himself for the first time in a while putting together 27 points on 11-19 shooting, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists. He primarily benefited from aggressive play and attacking the basket, which isn’t shocking, but seeing him involved heavily on offense was a fantastic sight.