The Oklahoma City Thunder (31-18) won their fifth straight game on Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, defeating the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks (35-13) by a score of 118-112. One could make the case that this was Oklahoma City’s most impressive win of the season, as Milwaukee came into tonight on a six-game winning streak and with ownership of the best record in the NBA. The Thunder showed a strong commitment to the defensive end and were fueled by Paul George’s 36 points (12/21 FG, 8/12 3P, 4/6 FT), 13 rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He out-dueled fellow MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished his night with 27 points and 18 rebounds on 8-of-22 shooting.
The Thunder limped off the starting blocks, finding themselves down 8-0 before making their first shot when Steven Adams put-back a missed three from Russell Westbrook at the 9:27 mark. Jerami Grant drew the first defensive assignment on Antetokounmpo and responded positively, forcing him without a field goal in the opening quarter. Brook Lopez picked up the slack for the visiting Bucks, going 4-of-4 from long distance in the quarter. Led by Paul George’s 11 points, including 3-of-5 from three, the Thunder were ahead 31-25 after one.
Nerlens Noel’s activity on the defensive end helped OKC grow their lead in the second quarter. Adams appeared to turn his ankle late in the first, forcing Noel into more minutes. He responded with two blocks on Antetokounmpo and an impressive alley-oop over Ersan Ilyasova. The suffocating Thunder defense on Greek Freak continued in the second, sending help when necessary and forcing him into uncomfortable looks. Antetokounmpo finished the half without a field goal, going 0-of-6 with three turnovers. Oklahoma City forced Milwaukee into 34.9 percent shooting from the field in the first half, and the Thunder led 56-42 at the break. George’s flame throwing continued, pacing the Thunder with 21 first-half points (7/13 FG, 5/9 3P, 2/4 FT).
Steven Adams established himself offensively in the third, returning from his ankle injury to score 10 points on 5-of-7 from the field in the quarter. Adams intercepted a Milwaukee pass and finished the play with a pretty “Kiwi-step” on the layup to the delight of the ‘Peake crowd. Grant’s defense continued, picking up his third and fourth blocks in the quarter. Milwaukee caught fire from three to close the frame, putting together a 13-4 run before a Dennis Schroder three in the final seconds put OKC up 89-79 heading into the final 12 minutes of play.
The game appeared to be in hand for the Thunder, as they held a commanding 13-point lead with just under five minutes remaining — but Milwaukee had one last push left in them. The Bucks strung together a 12-3 run after Antetokounmpo’s three-pointer brought Milwaukee to within four with just over two minutes remaining. After OKC and Milwaukee exchanged buckets on the following possessions, George provided the highlight of the night, dunking over Antetokounmpo to put the Thunder up six with 1:15 remaining.
Milwaukee immediately answered with an Eric Bledsoe three-pointer, trimming their deficit to three with 1:09 to go. The Thunder were in need of a bucket to seal the win. With the shot clock approaching zero, George nailed a three-pointer, his eighth of the night, to put the Thunder back up six with 48.1 seconds left. A Bledsoe turnover on Milwaukee’s next trip down served as the nail in the coffin before the Thunder tacked on a few more free throws to officially put the game on ice.
Six Thunder players reached double-figures in scoring, led by George’s 36 on a blistering 8-of-12 clip from long range. He was joined by Grant (16), Ferguson (15), Adams (14), Schroder (14), and Russell Westbrook — who finished with 13 points (5/20 FG, 2/5 3P), 13 rebounds, and 11 assists for his sixteenth triple-double of the season.
What Else is New?: PG-13 enjoyed another masterful performance for the Thunder, amassing 36 points (12/21 FG, 8/12 3P, 4/6 FT), 13 rebounds, three assists, and three steals. George carried the Thunder to the finish line, scoring 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-2 from downtown, in the fourth quarter. OKC needed all of it, withstanding a big run from the NBA’s best team in the closing minutes. He certainly looked like an MVP candidate in this one.
‘Peake Freak vs Greek Freak: Very few people on the planet are more unguardable than Antetokounmpo, but that didn’t stop Grant from putting forth an impactful night on both ends of the floor. Billy Donovan gave Grant the assignment of defending the best player in the Eastern Conference, and Grant answered the call. Grant ended up with a season-high five blocks on the night, as well as 16 points (5/10 FG, 1/3 3P, 5/8 FT), two rebounds, and four assists. Giannis packed the stat line with 27 points and 18 rebounds, but shot just 8-of-22 and didn’t make a field goal in the first half.
Three Straight Triple-Doubles: Westbrook’s shot wasn’t falling tonight, going 5-of-20 from the field (2/5 3P). However, the Brodie was able to impact the game in other ways, totaling 13 rebounds and 11 assists, a steal and a block to go with his 13 points. Westbrook came into tonight shooting 28.9 percent in the month of January on shots outside the paint, and only four of his 20 shots came from that distance against the Bucks.
Thunder Basketball: The Thunder’s defensive identity was on full display tonight, frustrating the Bucks with their length and tenacity. OKC blocked seven of Antetokounmpo’s shot attempts, the most times he’s been blocked in a game this season. In total, the Thunder recorded 10 blocks, five steals, and forced 14 Milwaukee turnovers.
Sharpshooting Continues: The month of January has treated Thunder shooters well and tonight was just another example. OKC shot a blistering 50 percent (16-of-32) from beyond the arc, including an 8-of-12 night from George. Terrance Ferguson’s stroke remained smooth, as he went 3-of-5 from downtown tonight.
PG & Jerami discuss the win after the game: