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Bucks vs. Thunder Final Score: Giannis, Bucks outlast Westbrook down the stretch, 98-94

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John Henson hits the game winning shot before Malcolm Brogdon ices the game at the line

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

2017 is off to a roaring start for the Bucks, as they won out in a tight game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 98-94. Milwaukee rebounded from a poor first quarter to take the lead late in the third quarter, and the Bucks held on down the stretch as Giannis Antetokounmpo out-dueled Russell Westbrook.

Giannis posted his usual sterling numbers with 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block on 10-19 shooting even with an uncharacteristic 5-10 from the line. Jabari had a tougher night with four turnovers and only 7-17 from the field, but he finished with 19 points, six rebounds, two assists and a block. Greg Monroe had 15 points and seven rebounds, John Henson notched 12 points and Malcolm Brogdon topped it off with 12 points and five assists on just 3-12 shooting, but he did hit the two free throws that iced the game.

Russell Westbrook came as advertised, posting 30 points on an ugly 9-28 from the field to go with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals. Steven Adams ate the Bucks’ interior up all night with 20 points on 9-11 shooting, although 16 of those came in the first half, and Victor Oladipo stroked it from deep all night to get 18 points on 4-7 from three.

OKC started off the game hot, making their first 11 shots from the field, but Milwaukee fought back with Giannis, Monroe and Brogdon helping cut the gap to just six at halftime. The Bucks grabbed the lead and extended it to seven before the fourth quarter when OKC battled back to make it tight down the stretch. OKC’s early game shotmaking magic dissipated, and John Henson hit a free throw line jumper and hook shot that wound up as the game-winning basket before Brogdon iced it at the line.

Milwaukee shot 48% on the night to OKC’s 46%, and the Bucks shot another small volume of threes, going 7-19 (37%) to OKC’s 9-27 (33%). The Bucks struggled from the line all night, shooting just 15-24, but were able to prevent the Thunder’s frontline players from dominating the offensive glass as they mustered only eight on the night to Milwaukee’s seven.

Oklahoma City started out blitzing the Bucks down low, with Steven Adams getting three easy buckets at the hoop off passes right through the Bucks’ defense. Giannis got on the board with a finish over Roberson, but OKC led 13-4 at the first break after a Victor Oladipo transition finish. Giannis nailed a three-pointer off a swing pass from Jabari, but the Thunder didn’t even miss a shot until Domantas Sabonis missed a three-pointer with 3:07 left and the Bucks down 27-15. A few Malcolm Brogdon drives and a Greg Monroe hook shot later, and it was 30-22 at the end of the first, as the Thunder finished 71% from the field. Jabari went 0-4 from the field, while Giannis, Monroe and Brogdon each had five.

Giannis and Jabari finally got into a bit of a rhythm against the Thunder reserves to start the second, including this dandy exchange in transition:

Jabari finally got on the board himself with a sly drive against Oladipo to slam it home and pull Milwaukee within 36-33. The Thunder starters had returned by this point, and Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams continued to hurt the Bucks at the rim, as a Westbrook free throw jumper put them up seven halfway through. Greg Monroe did some dominating against the defensively-challenged Enes Kanter, and Jabari Parker notched a contested finish off an offensive board to make it 51-43. Giannis finished off the half with a tip-in that seemed to stretch his arm an extra half foot, and the Bucks went into halftime down 56-50.

Giannis wound up with 17 points on 7-11 shooting, while Greg Monroe chipped in nine points and Parker had seven on just 3-9 from the field. Russell Westbrook had 18 for the Thunder and Steven Adams was a perfect 7-7 from the field with 16 points. Oklahoma City shot 61% from the field, including 5-11 from three, while Milwaukee was at 50% and only 3-9 from deep.

Malcolm Brogdon started the second half with a corner three that Parker followed up with his own three-pointer, and then Giannis made a Russell Westbrook shot mind-meld with the backboard:

A pair of Parker free throws got the Bucks within 63-62, as OKC went back to its furry-faced frontcourt with Kanter and Adams. After blocking a Kanter shot on the other end, Parker nailed a three-pointer over Adams to give Milwaukee its first lead of the game at 65-63 with 4:28 to go. Russell Westbrook answered with four consecutive free throws, but soon exited go allow Giannis to prosper. First he hit an and-one finish, then he whipped a pass to Mirza for a three on the perimeter and he closed out the quarter with a fadeaway shot over Alex Abrines that hung in the air interminably before dropping in to give Milwaukee a 79-72 lead going into the fourth. Giannis’ stat line sat at 24 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

OKC tightened the gap early in the fourth with five quick points from Semaj Christon, and a Victor Oladipo crossover penetration finish tied it up at 86. Milwaukee returned to their starting lineup, and Giannis responded quickly with a slam that made Sabonis look older than his pops, Arvydas. Russell Westbrook, savvy superstar that he is, took the ball down for a layup before the Bucks defense even set to make it 92 all.

As predicted, John Henson hit a free throw line jumper to give the Bucks the lead, and after the Thunder tied it back up at 94, Giannis made a swift spin move into the lane and fed the ball between traffic to Henson who finished for a 96-94 lead. Jabari Parker turned the ball over with 14 seconds left to give the Thunder a chance to tie it up, and Russell Westbrook promptly lost the ball out of bounds while driving on the ensuing play.

Milwaukee ran a play to get Malcolm Brogdon the ball before a Thunder foul sent him to the line, and he hit both free throws to make it 98-94. Russell Westbrook airballed a three-point attempt on the other end, and Milwaukee notched their first win of 2017.

Thoughts:

The Bucks had back-to-back shot clock violations in the first quarter, as OKC stymied their offense, and in particular the driving ability of Giannis. Andre Roberson was a pest during the entire first quarter on Giannis, stopping him at every turn. One of those violations spared everyone a John Henson three-point attempt going on the record.

Oklahoma City’s bench is not good. I know they’re missing Cameron Payne, but the group of Jerami Grant, Joffrey Lauvergne, Alex Abrines and Semaj Christon is brutal. The Bucks slipped Jabari and Giannis in to start the second quarter and they got a quick bucket and easy finish in transition to help get the team going a bit before the Thunder starters returned.

Jason Kidd went with a John Henson, Greg Monroe frontcourt to counteract the OKC Thunder frontline of Kanter and Adams. That was the first time that duo has shared the court this season. The Kanter-Moose matchup went Moose’s way; Adams-Henson went Adams’ way. Adams’ win was a blowout, Monroe’s felt more like a five-point victory.

Russell Westbrook did the Aaron Rodgers belt dance in the second quarter after a three-pointer. The fans treated him to some boisterous boos that Jason Terry encouraged gleefully. Here’s the video evidence:

In the second quarter, there was a play where Tony Snell drove to the paint, passed to Greg Monroe who tip-passed to a cutting John Henson for a slam dunk. I can comfortably say I never thought I would see that.

With Andre Roberson guarding Giannis most of the game, I presumed Jabari Parker would have every opportunity to exploit the perceived mismatches he’d have against other Thunder defenders. His aggressiveness was absent in the first half, as he passed up opportunities to attack the slower-footed Domantas Sabonis and smaller Victor Oladipo. He did a much better job coming out of the half though, with a wicked crossover and stepback jumper attempt against Sabonis and whirling past Steven Adams in a transition opportunity. His night really came down to some of those jumpers just not falling.

I’m all for Brogdon feeling himself after his triple-double last game, but he got a little thirsty on some three-point attempts tonight. He had a few tough contested jumpers and tried a pull-up in transition when the Bucks had just taken their first lead of the game that caromed off and lead to Westbrook free throws on the other end. I’m all for him increasing his volume in an expanded role, he could just pick his spots a little better.

The Bucks didn’t go with the two-big lineup in the second half when OKC went to it, instead opting to stay with a mix of Jabari and Giannis, as well as mixing in another lineup we hadn’t seen before this season with Terry-Beasley-Teletovic-Giannis-Monroe.

Greg Monroe had a really good night against the Thunder’s suspect defensive frontcourt. He bodied up both Joffrey Lauvergne and Enes Kanter at multiple points for post position and spun them like a dance partner for hook shot finishes. He got on the ground for loose balls tonight plenty too. I’m glad to see someone picking up the grit factor in Delly’s absence.

For those hoping Giannis and Jabari would get more chances in crunch time, that was certainly the case tonight. Brogdon and Snell were justifiably reticent to shoot anything near the end, oftentimes deferring to Giannis for a drive to the rim or dishing to others for effective shots. He was flummoxed at the rim twice while trying to snare the lead, but his drive and pass to Henson for the game-winning-bucket was indicative of his effectiveness even if he didn’t make the shot. Oh, and Brogdon got the ball with eight seconds left and iced the game at the line. Rookie onions.