It was quality over quantity on Thursday night, as the Bucks showed why they’re the odds on favourite to take the East, whilst the Thunder outlasted Portland for the season sweep in a wild overtime encounter.
Here are our key takeaways from two conference-shaping encounters.
Indiana 98 defeated by Milwaukee 117
Milwaukee were coming off their first back-to-back losses of the season, and clearly had something to prove against an Indiana side clinging on to third spot in the East.
The Bucks were only up by 3 midway through the third quarter. At that point the crowd was restless and the players looked listless; they needed a spark. As usual, Giannis Antentokounpo provided it. He was given a technical foul after not getting free throws on a particularly hard drive, and that seemed to kick the Bucks in to action. Bojan Bogdanovic missed the technical free throw, and Milwaukee rattled off 13 straight points, bookended by two enormous Giannis dunks.
They were never headed from there. The Pacers dragged themselves back to 10 points down early in the fourth quarter but didn’t really look like challenging. Giannis had 29 points on 10-17 shooting (including 8/8 from the line!), and Khris Middleton predictably snapped out of his shooting slump with 27, including 4-7 from beyond the arc. Brook Lopez set the tone early with a couple of massive bombs from downtown.
For the Pacers there wasn’t a lot to cheer about. Myles Turner had 22 points and 17 rebounds but had an inefficient shooting night, whilst Bojan Bogdanovic cooled off a little with 17 points on 40% shooting. This result is what can happen to a team without much star power.
Next up the Pacers travel to Philadelphia on Sunday in a massive Eastern matchup, whilst the Bucks host Charlotte on Saturday.
Oklahoma City 129 defeated Portland 121 (OT)
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Paul George and Russell Westbrook put on a show in Portland, and this one might end up being in the top 5 regular season games of the year.
In what had been a see-sawing encounter all night, all hell broke loose in the final seconds of regulation. Jusuf Nurkic (who had earlier been teched for tripping Westbrook) earned himself two free throws with Portland down by two and only four seconds left on the clock. He decided to headbutt Paul George, in the culmination of an ongoing battle between the two, and was summarily thrown out of the game.
OKC were given the choice of anyone on the Trailblazers bench to take the potentially game-tying free throws. In a moment of pure theatre Billy Donovan chose Skal Labissiere, who had not attempted a free throw ALL YEAR.
Skal missed both, but in a flush of insanity Markieff Morris fouled Al-Farouq Aminu, who coolly sent the game to overtime from the line.
Unfortunately for the Blazers the loss of Nurkic proved fatal – George and Westbrook got inside the paint at will in OT, and Lillard’s attempts to take over the game proved futile.
He could be forgiven; after-all he did drop 51 points and 9 assists in a performance which was nothing short of immense. McCollum was slightly inefficient for his 25. Nurkic’s 17 boards were huge, but in the end his stupidity likely cost the Blazers a crucial game. They’ve now lost all 4 matchups to the Thunder this season, and effectively drop 2 games behind them in the Western standings.
Westbrook had 37 points shooting on 50% from the floor, and whilst his play (as always) was slightly erratic (8 turnovers) his hustle more than makes up for it. Paul George had 32 points 14 boards, 6 assists and 3 steals, and continued to look like he might be the best basketball player in the world.
Next up the Thunder are in LA against Clippers tomorrow night, whilst the Blazers host the Suns on Saturday.
Player of the night: Damian Lillard (51 points, 54% shooting)
Best team performance: OKC’s win at Portland
Most disappointing: Indiana – lack of star power starting to show
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