A night after maybe the most frustrating loss of the season, the Thunder were in another bad fourth quarter spot Saturday in Milwaukee. After giving up 37 points in the third, the Bucks had cranked up the energy to start the final frame, turning an 83-83 game at the end of three into a 92-87 lead with 8:38 left.
Scott Brooks called timeout, stomping out under the visitor’s basket, as he tends to do when he calls one of those mad timeouts. I expected wholesale changes, but instead, it was the same five back on the floor — Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison.
I don’t know what Scotty said, or if just the break in play was helpful for the Thunder to regain composure, but following the timeout OKC stampeded to a 12-0 run and a 99-92 lead, taking complete control of the game.
KD set up Collison for an uncontested dunk right out of the timeout on a beautiful slip-screen play. After a missed 3 by Brandon Jennings, Durant made a tough running bank shot. A steal by Jackson led to a Martin dunk. A missed 3 by J.J. Redick and then two free throws for Durant. A missed jumper from Monta Ellis, then Westbrook, who had checked in for Jackson, set Collison up on a lovely side screen-and-roll. Another Milwaukee turnover, which led to Westbrook hooking up with Collison again, this time on a dunk.
So to review that 12-point run, the Thunder made all shots within 10 feet, had three dunks, two layups and a close running banker. They forced two turnovers, and the Bucks took two 3s and a long 2-pointer. That, my friends, is the anatomy of an outstanding takeover fourth quarter run.
But what was even more impressive to me than just the 12-0 burst was the way the Thunder then proceeded to mechanically close the game out. It’s one thing to go up 99-92 with six minutes left, but you still have to execute and finish. The Bucks eventually came back with an Ersan Ilyasova layup to cut it to 99-94 with 4:39 remaining, but a Serge Ibaka putback and another 3-point miss from Milwaukee set up the closing chapter on the game, a wonderfully executed pick-and-roll diversion that afforded KD a wide open 3, setup by Westbrook. Durant drained it, Westbrook got a triple-double out of it and the Thunder led 104-94 with 2:47 left.
(Quick breakdown on the play because it was just beautiful stuff. It was basically an improvisation on the fly by Westbrook. Durant appeared to want the ball in isolation against Larry Sanders. Westbrook waved it off, then actually had to wave it off again as he directed traffic, sending Durant over to the right wing while he called for a pick-and-roll with Ibaka. Westbrook attacks after the screen, which obviously the Bucks have to respect. And Ibaka dives hard to the rim, which caused Sanders to stupidly overhelp, leaving Durant wide open on the wing. Westbrook drew the defense, kicked right on time, put it right on the money and KD paid it off. Awesome execution there.)
It was the kind of impressive finish that sort of restores a little faith, I think. The Thunder have this in them. We know it. We’ve seen it. They’ve had their moments of lackadaisical, unfocused play with sloppy, uncommitted execution. They’ve had their games where they made you question everything you thought you ever knew about this team. But these guys are really good when they just put things together.
And yeah, you can pooh-pooh this win and say it was just the Bucks if you want, but that Milwaukee team is no joke, especially at home. The Thunder were put in a tough spot and appeared to be headed for another frustrating limp to the buzzer with eight minutes left, but they found themselves and made things happen. The 12-0 run was great and really won the game, but I’m telling you, the 10-7 finish might’ve been even better.
- Serge Ibaka, or should I say, SERGE IBAKA!, was awesome. So many have touted Larry Sanders’ defense this season — and for very good reasons, I should say — but in the meantime have sort of overlooked Ibaka as a rim protector. I don’t know if Ibaka was intent on making a statement tonight, but he was possessed in the paint. He had eight blocks — six coming in the second quarter — while Sanders had zero. Ibaka started the game 6-6 from the field, finished 7-8 for 16 points with seven rebounds. Outstanding game from Ibaka.
- After the game, Westbrook made sure to say that Ibaka was the “best shotblocker in the league.” Something tells me that wasn’t coincidental.
- OK, so yeah, Derek Fisher played 22 minutes tonight. Ten in the first half and all 12 of his second half minutes coming in the fourth quarter. And you know what, he was actually pretty effective. He played some kind of pretty good defense in the fourth quarter, helping that smallball lineup scrap away to a couple live ball turnovers that led to easy points. He was solid on J.J. Redick and while he add zippo offensively, he did some good things. Doesn’t mean he should’ve been out there though. I mean, I remember Robert Swift and Johan Petro playing some good minutes here and there at times too. It happens.
- I’ll say it: Part of me kind of cringed that Fisher so obviously contributed in the fourth quarter. Because it only serves as validation for Scott Brooks that he’s doing something right. But then I realized something — no matter how Fisher performs, nothing is changing. Brooks is playing Fisher regardless, because that’s just the way it is. It’s not that I rooted for Fisher to do bad necessarily, it’s just that I wasn’t exactly disappointed when he did. But tonight I decided that instead of turning my nose up at the good stuff, I might as well hope he plays awesome because like I said, he’s going to get minutes. We’ve just got to deal with this. Might as well pray they’re decent.
- KD was splendidly splendid. He had 30 points on 10-19 and was a game-high +19. But he really took the game over with four second half assists, three of them leading to dunks.
- The Bucks attempted 98 shots tonight! The reason for that is three-part: 1) lots of offensive rebounds (19); 2) low turnovers (nine); and 3) low free throws (15). Still, 98 shots in a non-overtime game is a TON. Good news for the Thunder is the Bucks hit only 37.8 percent of them.
- OKC’s two best lineups tonight: the starting five (+8 in 15 minutes) and that smallball group in the fourth (+10 in six minutes).
- Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combined to go 6-30 for 17 points. And both of them seemed absolutely intent on shooting step-backs over OKC’s bigs on every switch. Jennings finally hit one in the second half, but it was just so dumb. I mean, I’m not surprised, but still.
- Tonight was Russell Westbrook’s first triple-double since Jan. 28, 2011. (Yes, he had one Game 7 against Memphis but you don’t count postseason stats.)
- First game in a while I really didn’t feel like Jackson made much of an impact. He had four points and an assist in 15 minutes, but he was a little bit just there tonight.
- Ronnie Brewer got some random playing time late first quarter and early second. And he was part of a really unusual smallball lineup. It was Jackson, Fisher, Martin, Brewer and Collison. Not surprisingly, that group sort of got killed inside. If Brewer’s going to play the 4, he’s got to at least have some sort of impact on the glass. He’s a really big guy. He just didn’t do anything.
- (By the way, that lineup broke even over four minutes, but when Westbrook checked in for Jackson, was a -3 in three more minutes.)
- If Gregg Popovich had called that fourth quarter timeout Brooks did, people would be changing their underwear at his coaching brilliance.
- Obligatory mention of the home whites with black shoes.
- I really liked Martin’s aggressiveness in the second quarter. He was almost shooting so much it got to the point of chucking, but I’m fine with it, especially when there’s no one else on the floor to score. He had 17 on 6-12 shooting in 31 minutes. Only went 1-6 from 3, but he didn’t just sit out there and go 1-7 for the game. He attacked and made some midrange stuff and got to the rim a little.
- I mean seriously though, Martin. It’s time to like go practice that jab step move a little so that you don’t travel EVERY SINGLE TIME you do it. He’s done it 489 times this season. (Note: That’s an estimate.)
- Derek Fisher blocked Marquis Daniels in the fourth quarter. Retire now, Quis. Right now.
- Bucks fans’ counted on Ibaka’s free throws. Got to 12 and 13 a couple times.
- Larry Sanders hit Nick Collison with a really dumb cheap elbow in the third quarter and picked up a technical for it. I enjoyed Collison’s reaction to it though. He took the elbow on his chin and was just like “whatever” and walked away.
- Mike Dunleavy was caught out top checking one of OKC’s guard in isolation and Grant Long said he should take him off the dribble using his “quickness.” The Thunder player? Derek Fisher. I don’t even.
- Pretty impressed Westbrook heaved that three-quarter shot at the end of the second. I totally thought he was going to pull the oops-I-waited-just-a-half-second-too-long move.
- Vanilla Ice was the halftime show for the Bucks, as part of their “1990s Night.” He’s no Tommy Tutone, but whatever.
- KD’s behind the back pass was so slick. Too bad Perk didn’t finish it.
- It’s Nick Collison’s turn on the black eye train. He had a pretty nice shiner on his right eye, earned last night via Nikola Pekovic.
- I’ve always thought Ersan Ilyasova would fit very nicely with the Thunder.
- It always cracks me up how when Perk scores on a good move, he plays that next defensive possession just a little bit harder.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Scott Brooks is going to give Mo Cheeks a jersey and tell him to go in next.”
Next up: Home against the Spurs on Tuesday.