Well that was ugly. Really ugly. But the Thunder figured out a way to get an 82-81 win in Milwaukee to close a 2-0 road trip with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green on the bench. Oklahoma City sits at 9-4 and will finish the night no worse than tied for first place in the Northwest Division.
It’s hard to say what affected shooting percentages for the Thunder and Bucks more: ugly offense or good defense. Milwaukee shot 38 percent for the game and Oklahoma City shot 37 percent. The Thunder’s 8-14 performance from beyond the arc proved a huge difference, with the Bucks shooting only 3-17. This is the kind of game that coaches probably won’t even spend much time watching film. Just too ugly. Throw the film away.
Unless, of course, an assistant coach might want to take some time to corner James Harden on the plane ride home and go over his minutes to show him what it looks like when he’s playing good basketball. I’m hard-pressed right now to think of a bigger game Harden has had in an Oklahoma City uniform. Harden finished 6-8 on 3-pointers and scored 23 points, only three shy of his career best. The Beard also had nine rebounds and four assists against just four turnovers, and although he missed all five of his 2-point shots, a little luck could have changed that. Harden played solid defense, was decisive and hit his open 3-pointers, which is what the Thunder needs him to do if they’re going to contend in the West this season.
But overall there was still plenty to fret about, even though I think focusing on many negatives on a 2-0 road trip without your best player is pretty much picking nits. Oklahoma City allowed Milwaukee to hang around throughout the fourth quarter, thanks to more maddening play calling (and/or play execution) on critical possessions. Too many isolation plays again, or at least plays where Russell Westbrook would dribble around for awhile before shooting a contested jumper.
I thought a sequence beginning around the 3-minute mark summed up the night pretty well. The Thunder offense started to get bogged down with the no-pass or few-pass possessions, but Oklahoma City came out of a timeout with some great ball movement to get a wide-open Harden 3-pointer from straight away. A couple of possessions later, Nick Collison came up with a gigantic steal (by fronting the much larger Andrew Bogut) that gave the Thunder a chance to get a huge bucket with time winding down. But Westbrook lofted another contested jumper and the steal was wasted.
Westbrook later hit the two most important free-throws of the night to more or less seal the win for Oklahoma City, much like Friday night’s game in Boston. And that — the win — is really what matters.
- The unimaginative fourth quarter playcalling (and/or execution) from the Boston game showed early in this game as well. It didn’t come as Westbrook jumpers this time, but two missed shots for Thabo Sefolosha from behind the arc. Not really how you want to start of the game. But Sefolosha was otherwise pretty solid on the offensive end, hitting half of his remaining eight shots and finishing with 10 points. Plenty of disruption on the defensive end showed up on the stat sheet through three steals.
- The rest of the first quarter featured the best offense of the night from the Thunder. Some good ball movement, some Harden threes and Westbrook drives to the basket is good offense when KD and Uncle Jeff are on the bench.
- Royal Ivey got action in the first quarter for what I think was the first time this season. Ivey played some good on-ball defense and acquitted himself well in 18 minutes.
- Eric Maynor continues to shoot well. Two-of-three from downtown and 5-8 overall for 12 big points. He had a rare poor showing handling the ball though with four turnovers.
- Harden also had a game-high 40 minutes. I’d be shocked if that’s not a first for him in the NBA.
- Who had the second-most minutes? Collison. He also drew two more charges, so he’s averaging one per game now. That’s awesome. Is anyone really surprised the Thunder’s defense improved significantly when he came back from his leg injury?
- It was a ghastly night offensively for Westbrook. The 6-3 assist-to-turnover ratio is nice, and it would be hard to expect more than six dimes out of him when the team shoots so poorly. But he was 5-18 from the field, which was at least slightly mitigated by a perfect 8-8 night from the stripe. I feel like his outside shooting will come back around once KD is back in the lineup and he reverts to the No. 2 scoring option.
- Serge Ibaka also had a quiet night. He struggled with foul trouble, but made an impact on the defensive end late in the game when he came up with a key block. The relatively quiet two-game stretch may remind us that the days of Ibaka being a consistent double-double guy are still a ways off.
- D.J. White finished with a team-high two blocks to offset his 1-6 shooting night. I didn’t realize his shooting was that bad until I looked at the stat sheet. His played admirably on defense with Ibaka on the bench.
- I heard the Fox Sports Oklahoma crew mention that it was the opening night of deer season in Wisconsin. I looked it up, and turns out that tonight was indeed the first night of gun season for white-tailed deer up there. So the Thunder bagged some Bucks themselves. Nice.
- Is it just me, or does Harden have a high number of those stutter-step travels? He had another one tonight.
Here’s hoping Durant is back as soon as possible, but Oklahoma City is owed a big tip of the cap for gritting out a couple of road wins.
Next up: Minnesota on Monday.