Bucks (40-37, 18-19 road) vs. Thunder (43-33, 27-12 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.9 (17th), Bucks – 107.8 (12th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 105.2 (9th), Bucks – 106.7 (19th)
To turn the Oklahoma City Thunder into a championship outfit, the front office is going to definitely have to make some moves this offseason. In their last game, Charlotte constantly sent two, and sometimes three defenders, at Westbrook. The Hornets’ defense had little to no regard for the likes of Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson, or Jerami Grant. When Westbrook was in the pick and roll with Steven Adams, the big man and primary defending guard would just follow Westbrook and Roberson’s man would sink down onto Adams.
It’s the old adage in the NBA: you defend the superstar and let the others beat you. If Victor Oladipo goes off for 35 points in a game, you take that because you know, in a 7-game series, he likely won’t do that again. If Adams or Enes Kanter have a 20/12 game, you take that because you know it likely won’t happen again. It’s the consistency of the others that needs to be stepped up. The problem is I don’t know if this is a “them” issue or if this is a “playing with Westbrook” issue.
Case in point: Adams. There was a one month stretch, from December 9th to January 11th, where Adams looked to be well on his way to being one of the better two-way centers in the league. During that stretch he averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. Most important for his production was his 9.3 shot attempts per game. Fast forward to this past month, and Adams is averaging 9.2 points and 6.4 boards on just 6.1 shot attempts per game. A 3-shot differences in a 15-18 game sample size is a big deal for a center.
So what changed? Did Adams stop calling for the ball? Did Westbrook eschew throwing the ball into the post? Or did defenses start focusing their attention more on the paint when defending the Thunder? In reality, it was probably a combination of all three. With defenses heavily defending the Thunder in the paint, there just hasn’t been space for Adams to operate. With Adams getting stonewalled, Westbrook has to look at other options to get the ball in the basket, thus looking Adams away. Is there anything the Thunder can do differently? Probably not this season. The Thunder are going to have to target some consistent shooting this offseason or hope that Alex Abrines and/or Doug McDermott make the leap from good shooter to great shooter next season.
Season Series Summary
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Bucks. The Bucks won the first meeting in Milwaukee, 98-94, earlier this season. In that game, Westbrook finished with 30 points, but shot just 9-28 from the field (2/10 from three). Adams had a good game with 20 points and 8 boards, but his ‘Stache Bros, Enes Kanter, only had 2 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker combined for 45 points and 16 boards in that game.
Three Big Things
1. Offensive Boards
For as long as the Bucks are, they are extremely vulnerable to offensive rebounding. They rank 28th in the league in defensive rebounding and 26th in defensive rebound%. Meanwhile, the Thunder rank in the top 3 in nearly every rebounding statistic. If the Thunder can take advantage of this, which they didn’t the last time these two teams played, this may set them up for a win. John Henson being out for the Bucks will help the Thunder.
2. Protecting the Paint
The Bucks and the Thunder both score the majority of their points in the paint. Where they differ is in how well they defend the paint. The Thunder are the 28th best team at defending the paint while the Bucks are 16th. Roberson will be tasked with guarding Antetokounmpo, but Westbrook and Oladipo will have to do a better job of keeping the Bucks’ guards out of the paint.
It’s apropos that Westbrook has the opportunity to tie Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record against Robertson’s old team. The Bucks did a great job of frustrating Westbrook the last time they met, holding him to 30 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 turnovers.