Jeremy Lamb just knew he was headed for a big game Thursday at Denver.
The second-year shooting guard confidently expressed as much to just about anybody who would listen.
But then he scored three points, one more than his season low, and missed 11 of 12 shots in Oklahoma City's loss to the Nuggets.
Two nights later, before the Thunder's 101-85 win over Milwaukee, Lamb didn't have that confident look. Didn't feel it, either.
Yet he scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half to help the Thunder stave off a pesky Bucks squad on Saturday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and snap a two-game losing streak.
“I love what Jeremy did tonight,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He didn't shoot the ball well last game and wanted to come back better like all of our guys do. And he bounced back. He showed a lot of toughness. These are steps that he has taken this year and he has to continue to take. We're seeing his growth right in front of our eyes.”
When the Thunder's offense was stuck in mud against the worst team in basketball, Lamb came along and provided a helping hand. After the Bucks battled back from a 12-point deficit and wrestled away a surprising two-point lead midway through the third quarter, Lamb scored eight straight points to spark an 11-2 run.
He blocked a layup attempt by Bucks point guard Brandon Knight.
He knocked down a 3-pointer off a feed from Serge Ibaka.
He converted a layup off an assist from Thabo Sefolosha.
He nailed another 3 off a pass from Kevin Durant.
The Thunder never looked back.
Led by Lamb, Oklahoma City responded to that push by the Bucks with a 15-4 run before closing the third quarter on a 25-8 spurt that put the Thunder ahead 77-62 entering the final period. OKC's 39 points in the quarter were the most scored by the team in any third period this season.
After making just 12 of 42 shots in the first half, the Thunder made 13 of its 24 field-goal attempts in the third quarter. Durant paced all players with 14 of his game-high 33 points coming in the period. Ibaka added nine of 17 points.
“They played a little zone, and for shooters a zone is a great thing,” Lamb said. “And my teammates found me. Even though I had some terrible games (lately), my teammates still trusted me, coaches still trusted me, and I was able to knock some down.”
Brooks said he spoke with Lamb on Saturday morning and told him he got good shots that just didn't go in at Denver. The coach said he told the player to look for the same shots Saturday night.
This time, they fell.
“It's huge,” Lamb said of bouncing back. “Whenever shooters see the ball go through the rim, it's always a good thing.”
Milwaukee lost its fifth straight game to drop its league-worst record to 7-29. O.J. Mayo and Luke Ridnour each scored 16 off the bench to lead the Bucks, who were playing for the second straight night and fell to 1-10 against Western Conference opponents.
“It got away in the third quarter,” said Milwaukee coach Larry Drew.
Until then, the Bucks were actually hanging with the Thunder as neither team could find its shooting touch at the start.
The two clubs combined to make just nine of 41 shots in the opening period. They combined for more turnovers (11) than made field goals in the period. Before rookie forward Giannis Antetokounmpo gave the Bucks their first basket via a dunk over Kendrick Perkins, the teams had missed 16 straight shots. That basket made it 4-2 with 6:37 remaining in the period.
Offense was at such a premium it seemed for a moment that a 6-0 run by the Thunder to make it 14-6 would be an insurmountable deficit for Milwaukee.
“To be honest, all we wanted to focus on was defense,” said Durant. “Maybe that's why our offense wasn't so good.”
The Bucks closed within 14-10 at the end of the first period. And regardless of how it happened, it marked the fewest first-quarter points allowed in the franchise's Oklahoma City era.
The Thunder opened a 12-point lead on numerous occasions in the second period and led 38-26 with 2:28 remaining in the first half. But the Bucks reeled off nine straight, draining three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to pull within 38-35 at the half.
Milwaukee carried over that momentum into the third period, scoring on its first five possessions to open a 47-46 advantage. The Bucks at that point appeared to be growing more confident as each shot fell. A Khris Middleton 3-pointer later gave the Bucks a 54-52 advantage, their largest of the game, with 5:26 left in the period.
That's when Lamb found his touch and the Thunder found the killer instinct that's been missing of late.
“It shows that we can win different ways,” said Durant. “We can play fast-paced, slow it down, win a sloppy game or a low-scoring game. … Tonight, we didn't get down on ourselves and let it affect our defense.
“Everybody played hard. I'm proud of Lamb, how he came out. I don't think he was struggling, but he was struggling with his shot and he came out tonight super aggressive right away. He kind of ignited us a little bit off the bench.”