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Thunder rammed by Bucks 96-89

With the Oklahoma City Thunder entering a back-to-back set, the Thunder were struck by the Milwaukee Bucks 96-89. For the Thunder, the loss set them back to 6-9 on the year while for the Bucks — the victory shot them above the 500-mark, now resting at 9-8.

All five of Milwaukee’s starters logged points before Oklahoma City hit the scoreboard to open the contest, as following an opening 4-of-4 patch topped with two Giannis Antetokounmpo free throws — the Bucks staggered a 13-0 lead in the game’s first three minutes. After missing their first five shot attempts, the Thunder lifted the lid off of the basket with a 7-0 response, but the Bucks rammed right back with a 9-4 push of their own. Milwaukee compiled a 17-point, 28-11 first-quarter lead by the frame’s four-minute mark, but a chalky 3-of-8 ending for the Bucks kept the door open for the Thunder. Following seven quarter points from Lu Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, respectively, Oklahoma City ended the first twelve minutes out 34-24.

Oklahoma City’s “bench mob” stumbled in the second quarter’s first segment as despite harvesting three offensive rebounds in the opening six minutes, the group shot a bleak 3-of-13 (2-of-7 3PT) from the field. Milwaukee also struggled to put points on the board to stir on the second, but a 13-point burst between Bobby Portis and Grayson Allen hoisted the group afloat before starters checked into play. The Thunder found some interior prominence in the battle of starters as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Darius Bazley, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drained a layup apiece in a 6-0 stint to cut the game to 10 , but the Bucks took it back to them, adding six-consecutive points in the paint a minute later. Oklahoma City took to the paint again in the half’s closing moments as a Josh Giddey turnaround and layup coupled with an Aaron Wiggins driving bucket churned a 7-2 end cap, cutting the hole to 58-47 at half. 

The Thunder’s surges to knot period’s one and two, paved the way for a 40.9-percent time from the floor despite a 5-of-21 (23.8%) going from distance. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander closed the half with 10 points and 4 assists while Josh Giddey and Mike Muscala etched roles in the scoring and rebounding departments as Giddey clocked 8 points and 7 rebounds while Muscala rattled off 8 points and 6 rebounds.

The Bucks chatted with a 50-percent clip in the first half, ultimately settling on a 47.7-percent bid by the halftime horn. Milwaukee’s band of backcourt starred in the first half as George Hill added 12 points with Grayson Allen posting 11 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had been tight-lipped around the cup, but it didn’t stop the 26-year-old from tacking on 11 points and 6 boards.

Oklahoma City fell victim to a murky start in the second-half’s onset as they placed a lowly 2-of-13 hit rate in the starting six minutes of the frame. In the Thunder’s struggles, the Bucks took advantage of the mood swing, charging at white jerseys en route to nine free throw attempts, canning eight for a 14-7 stint. Milwaukee stacked their lead to 20 at the five-minute mark off of a Jrue Holiday layup, rolling a pathway for other members of the squad to take control — that man being Bobby Portis. After the Thunder tacked on seven points unanswered, Portis took back the reins, rolling out Milwaukee’s last six points to maintain a double-digit up 80-68.

The Thunder’s bench artillery erupted to tee off the fourth frame as Ty Jerome and Mike Muscala hit back-to-back threes in the first minute for a six-point contest. Following a Pat Connaughton responding three, Aleksej Pokusevski collected a putback jam before Lu Dort dwindled the Bucks’ advantage to four off of a pullup three. A possession later, Kenrich Williams cut Milwaukee’s lead to 84-82 with a 24-foot trifecta. The Thunder toyed with a two point and four point deficit until the five-minute mark in the frame — but then Milwaukee handed out a golden opportunity. Possession-after-possession, the Bucks kept the door open. From the five-minute mark until three minutes, Milwaukee coughed up three turnovers and failed to crack the board while dishing out five shot attempts for the Thunder — they all fell short. After the plethora of comeback opportunities, Khris Middleton ended the silence with 2 minutes, 56 seconds to go drilling a 27-foot three. On the very next play, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl canned a corner three to draw the game back to two with 2 minutes, 36 seconds to go. In another two-minute stint, Milwaukee had been held blank — giving the Thunder an extra opportunity to put on some points. With a pair of missed SGA triples and a team turnover, they did not capitalize. Giannis Antetokounmpo drew the game to two possessions inside 30 seconds with a 15-foot turnaround, but a misfired Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the other end called for game. After a quartet of free throws, Milwaukee outlasted Oklahoma City 96-89.

Despite the Thunder’s comeback efforts being spoiled, positivity permeated throughout the Thunder sidelines.

“That’s a hell of a team that we played tonight and we were down 20 in the third, they started the game and punched us in the mouth right away,” said Ty Jerome. “We have no quit no matter who’s on the floor. Just no quit.”

At the helm of Oklahoma City’s near-comeback stood 6-foot-10 David Bliss. Bliss, who serves under Head Coach Mark Daigneault, took head coaching duties Friday evening as Daigneault abstained from the road trip in preparation for the birth of his first child. Bliss will remain the Thunder’s head coach for the remainder of the group’s three-game road stand.

The Bucks narrowly nipped the Thunder from the floor Friday evening as the group shot 37 percent to the Thunder’s 35 percent while draining 29.3 percent of trifectas to the Thunder’s 25.0-percent clip. The Bucks ran out a thin nine-man roster for play, finding safeguard in a 21-point, 19-rebound performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo while Bobby Portis trotted out 17 points and 13 boards in 31 minutes. Other double-digit scorers for the Bucks included Khris Middleton, George Hill, Grayson Allen, and Jrue Holiday, with 16, 12, 11, and 10 points, respectively. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander posted a paltry 5-of-20 showing from the floor en route to 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander failed to surface any perimeter-play off of a rocky 2-of-12 three-point palate. Gilgeous-Alexander gravitated towards shot-making from start-to-finish on Saturday, opting to play in isolation for the game’s decisive possessions. Even with SGA’s shaky play in the clutch, the guard managed to create space on a shipment of stepbacks, just failing on the end result.

Josh Giddey logged his first back-to-back showing of double-doubles, finishing his 32-minute cut with 14 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. Giddey took control as the Thunder’s top playmaker, however, the Aussie drew up a mere four assists. Despite the low assist output, the guard lit up the Bucks with an array of cross-court passes and drive-and-dishes — serving out a team-high 15 potential assists. 

Mike Muscala toyed with a double-double, digging out 14 points and 9 rebounds in 20 minutes. Muscala made his name at the three on Friday, tacking on 4-of-6 three pointers to tag along with a pair of foul shots. The Moose’s consistency from deep range has netted the 30-year-old a minute bump even with a youth-infused frontcourt.

Lu Dort ended his 20-point streak versus the Bucks, scurrying out 10 points and 6 rebounds in 32 minutes. Dort’s calling card from distance declined in Milwaukee as the ASU alum found the bottom of the net on just 2-of-7 attempts. Dort’s activity on Friday had also been hindered with four personal fouls.

Ty Jerome upped the ante in the backcourt-battle pushing out 10 points and 4 rebounds in the absence of Tre Mann and Theo Maledon, who are both on assignment. Jerome found an alternate route to the statsheet as after a 1-of-4 going from outside, the former Virginia Cavalier took to the paint for floaters and free throws.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (6-9) jump back into action tomorrow evening as they will take on a date versus the Boston Celtics (8-8) Saturday evening.   

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