With both teams missing their respective star point-guards in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (knee) and Jrue Holiday, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to topple the Milwaukee Bucks 114-109. With the win, Oklahoma City elevated themselves to 11-15 on the season, good for the 13th seed in the conference— hopscotching the 11-16 Houston Rockets, who funnily enough owe their first-round pick to Oklahoma City.
In a game that saw double-digit leads blown by both sides in the and a fourth quarter that remained single-digits the entire period, Oklahoma City needed a heap of ammunition to scare off the Bucks— enter Justin Jackson. Jackson, who entered the night fresh off his first 20-point outing since 2019, was awarded starting duties over Hamidou Diallo in the contest, with those honors— he made every second count.
Justin Jackson topped his season-high for the third time in the last four games this time with a team-high of 22 points on an efficient 9-for-16 shooting. However, of Jackson’s nine makes from the field none held as much gravity as his final shot in the contest.
With Oklahoma City up just two points and needing to hold off Milwaukee for just 30 seconds, Jackson was trusted into hero mode for the second-straight game. After a botched Lu Dort drive and a bobbled Darius Bazley pass Jackson found himself with the rock, wielding just 4.1 seconds on the shot-clock to operate— what followed was nothing short of magical. Justin Jackson off of Bazley’s pass cocked, elevated, and launched away his top-of-the-key triple in half a second, and after two short stints on the back and front iron — BANG. Jackson called game.
Jackson’s big shot, and quite frankly game did not go unnoticed as the bench became more and more glued in to the 25-year-old’s shot into full out bursting into excitement off the major make, even garnering a cheeky smirk across the veteran. After the game players were quick to give credit as Lu Dort said “[Justin Jackson] He’s a worker, he stepped up and [now] he’s getting more minutes.”
Oklahoma City didn’t find they way past the Bucks in a one man show; as the remaining starters all finished in double-digits. Al Horford struggled to establish himself from deep-range converting on just 2-of-7 shots, but a strong collection of post moves and turnarounds netted the 34-year-old 20 points on a strong 8-of-16 shooting. Behind the big’s scoring outburst, collecting 7 rebounds, and a team-high 9 assists in his fourth 30+ minute output.
Lu Dort held the Thunder together in the early stages of the game, helping to erase on early 13-3 Bucks lead with a 14-0 run of their own, as well as the whole night. The sophomore held 16 points by halftime, and by the final buzzer— 19. Dort’s 3-of-5 shooting inside and 3-of-8 performance from deep left defenders guessing and his tenacity around the basket assisted in 9 attempts at the line. His biggest accolade came from defense, finishing the night with zero personal fouls on a game-high 36 minutes.
Darius Bazley came into his own on Sunday, bouncing back from his 2-of-9 display against Denver with an 18 point bombshell against the league’s reigning MVP. Baze looked right at home in the ‘Peake, attacking at Giannis at all levels, and breaking away for easy shots in transition— including a reverse dunk in space.
Kenrich Williams made his mark on both ends, paving room for 10 points (4-of-8 FG), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal in 34 minutes. The 26-year-old continues to impress starting in place of guard’s George Hill and Theo Maledon, specially on defensive. The tandem of Dort and Williams are major players as to why the Bucks shot just 3-of-18 from downtown in the first half, as their heavy amounts of switching lets them clueless.
Hamidou Diallo faced some adversity in his return to the second unit shooting a lowly 3-of-16 for his 6 points, but the 22-year-old found other way to contribute. Diallo never got to the line, but his physicality on the interior begs to be commended, as he scrapped together 13 rebounds in the game, including 6 on offense.
The big stat to pull from Oklahoma City’s victory comes from the assist category. The Thunder have continued to fill Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s void in the passing department, chipping in 20+ assists in their last six games, but none of them could compare to Sunday’s show. The team tied their season-high of 32 assists on the game on just 45 field goals… that’s an assist coming off of over 70-percent of their marks. This pass-first style of ball is something the entire team has wrapped themselves around, as Justin Jackson put it, “Everybody enjoys playing with each other. Everybody enjoys being around each other… When you’re able to go out there and play just selfless basketball at all times.. for us it’s trying to keep that up.”
Oklahoma City (11-15) will have a chance to keep the passing barrage up as they will gear up to play the Portland Trail Blazers (16-10) on Tuesday— if the ‘Peake doesn’t turn to ice by then…