MILWAUKEE — A troublesome third quarter had just spilled over into a sluggish start to the fourth and, suddenly, all the good the Thunder had done in a fantastic first half was in danger of coming undone. Oklahoma City was eight minutes away from a full-blown meltdown in Milwaukee, an ending that would have encapsulated a forgettable two-game road trip.
Then coach Scott Brooks called a timeout.
It came after the Bucks banged in their first four shots to take a five-point lead, their largest of the game, with 8:39 left to play. Milwaukee had no answer for what happened next — a 12-0 run that powered the Thunder to a 109-99 win on Saturday night inside the Bradley Center.
“I wish I could take credit for that,” Brooks said. “Our guys did a good job of just getting after it. They had a mentality not to be the one to get scored on. We talk about that during our timeouts, and that was well executed by our guys. Not one player on that court was going to let their man have an easy bucket.”
Over the game-changing, ensuing 2½ minutes, the Thunder hounded the Bucks with swarming defense that made Milwaukee go 0-for-3 with two turnovers in its subsequent five possessions.
At the other end, the Thunder scored on six straight possessions, going 5-for-5 from the field with a pair of free throws.
“Coach drew up some great plays for us,” said Kevin Durant. “Guys were in their spots. Everybody came off hard on their cuts and they were able to get open. … That started us off, and then we got stops.”
Durant scored four of his game-high 30 points during the run and ignited the rally by assisting Nick Collison on a dunk. Collison scored six points during the spurt, benefiting by another two assists from Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Martin added a fast-break dunk off of one of the Bucks' two turnovers.
Prior to the momentum-swinging rally, the Thunder had forced the Bucks into only three turnovers. Milwaukee then coughed up the ball six times in the final eight minutes.
“They took advantage on the turnovers,” said Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan. “They are a very athletic team that can take a turnover and turn it into two points really quickly.”
The win, which followed a disappointing effort that resulted in an eight-point loss one night earlier at Minnesota, enabled the Thunder to salvage a split on this brief two-game trip. Oklahoma City improved to 54-20 and 20-7 against Eastern Conference teams. It was the Thunder's third win in the last four games against Milwaukee, which has lost eight of 11 and dropped to 35-37.
Westbrook led the way with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, relentlessly attacking while Serge Ibaka anchored the defense by blocking a season-high eight shots as part of a superb all-around performance that included 16 points and seven rebounds.
Oklahoma City held Milwaukee to 37.8 percent shooting, largely because it hounded Milwaukee's starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis into a combined 17 points on 6-for-30 shooting.
“Our attitude was great tonight, on both ends,” Durant said. “When they made that run we stayed composed, … It was a great job from top to bottom. Everybody did their job.”
Kevin Martin and Collison both came off the bench to score 17 and 10, respectively. Their efforts helped the Thunder's bench outscore Milwaukee's 33-29 a night after Minnesota's second unit outscored the Thunder's 33-17.
Ersan Illyasova led Milwaukee with 29 points and 14 rebounds. Edmond Santa Fe product Ekpe Udoh scored 14 points with 11 rebounds off the bench, Larry Sanders and Marquis Daniels each chipped in 12 points and J.J. Redick added 10 points.
The Thunder led 56-46 at halftime behind ball movement (15 assists on 22 made field goals), a balanced attack and suffocating defense that held Milwaukee to 31.5 percent shooting.
But the Bucks stormed back in the third quarter, outscoring the Thunder 37-27 in the period thanks to a combined 18 points and eight rebounds from Illyasova and Sanders and five OKC turnovers.
The final eight minutes, when the Thunder clamped down and dug in defensively, ultimately is what allowed OKC to dodge a potential disaster.
“You can't shoot 37 percent and expect to beat a team like Oklahoma City,” Boylan said.