Milwaukee was hanging with the Thunder in an ESPN nationally televised game Friday night in the Ford Center, a matchup of two young teams off to better starts than most projected.
The primary reason the Bucks trailed only 51-50 at halftime was they were 6-of-13 on 3-pointers.
At halftime, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks challenged his team to play better defense, especially getting to the perimeter to guard Milwaukee’s potent 3-point shooters.
“Coach Brooks came in at halftime and emphasized taking that away,” said Russell Westbrook. “No easy baskets. We did a good job of that starting the third (quarter). We got the lead from there.”
The Bucks opened the third quarter 0-of-13 from the field. They didn’t score until midway through the third period. By that point the Thunder had outscored Milwaukee 15-0 to build the lead to 66-50.
That essentially was the game. The Bucks never got closer than 10 points the rest of the game as Oklahoma City cruised to a 108-90 win.
So what were Brooks’ magic words?
“The only thing we changed was our effort,” Brooks said. “We had to pick it up. They’ve had some great third quarters (earlier this season) and we needed to pick it up and do a better job defensively.”
The Bucks missed a few open shots but OKC’s defense improved.
“At the start of the third quarter we got overwhelemed,” said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. “They just drove straight by our guys to the basket. They took the game over at that point. We had a hard time staying in front of them defensively.
“We just weren’t sharp enough to come here and beat a team like Oklahoma City. You have to be sharp if you’re going to take control and win. We didn’t do that tonight. They are a much improved team. The way they took control in the third was embarrassing for us.”
The Thunder experienced some embarrassing losses early last season, especially in November. A year later they’re 9-7 with one more game to play this month.
How much better is the Thunder? Oklahoma City didn’t post its ninth win until late January.
“It was a great way to start the homestand,” said Thabo Sefolosha who recorded a double-double. “We’re building our confidence and building our team identity.”
That identity is defense. The third quarter was yet another example.