3 Thunder Takeaways: OKC Looks Like Deer In The Headlights, Loses Blowout To Milwaukee

Tuesday, March 8th 2022, 11:21 pm
By: Nate Kotisso


The Harlem Globetrotters are still weeks away from making their appearance at Paycom Center, but fans were treated Tuesday to the Milwaukee Bucks, which may as well be their NBA equivalent.

Giannis Antetokounmpo made it look easy with a game-high 39 points, but the Thunder didn’t play anything like the incompetent Washington Generals.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the biggest reason why. He tallied 33 points and 14 assists, which is yet another dazzling performance on top of the other recent dazzling performances in what is his most prolific stretch as a professional.

Since returning from injury Feb. 24 against the Phoenix Suns, Gilgeous-Alexander has now scored at least 30 points in six of seven games. Tuesday was the third game in a row when he dropped exactly 33 points. It feels darn near criminal that he’s playing this well while other pieces are sidelined for extended periods of time.

The Bucks ran up, around and over the Thunder in their 142-115 win Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

First Takeaway: ‘Mann’ Up

Three Thunder players had very important doctor’s appointments Tuesday.

The team announced successful procedures performed on fan favorite Mike Muscala, reserve guard Ty Jerome and starting guard Lu Dort. Muscala’s procedure on a ligament will have him back to start the 2022-23 season. Jerome’s procedure prevents him from performing basketball activities for approximately eight weeks. The regular season ends April 10 and Tuesday is March 8, so you can do the math on that one.

Of course, the most noteworthy surgery was Dort’s. He had the tear in his left shoulder’s labrum repaired. The injury kept him out of action for nine straight games.

We wish everyone well in their recovery, especially Dort, a good Canadian boy.

The players who stand to benefit most from Dort’s absence, arguably, are rookies Tre Mann and Lindy Waters III. They both had very different journeys to this moment. OKC selected Mann 18th overall in last summer’s draft while most of us are aware of Waters III’s NBA trek from Norman to Stillwater to Enid to Bricktown.

Mann started in Dort’s place and finished with a modest 11 points on 13 shot attempts Tuesday night, but he has already shown the potential for getting buckets in bunches.

February was the best month of Mann’s young career, featuring a gutsy 29-point performance in a win over Dallas, a crisp 30 points in 32 minutes against the Knicks on Valentine’s Day and a 22-point, five-assist effort to beat the Indiana Pacers. Coincidentally, all three of those games were overtime wins for the Thunder.

The team signed Waters to a deal last month because of his ability to shoot the three-pointer (48.8 percent with the OKC Blue). However, he shot 33 percent (9-for-27) from long range since making his NBA debut Feb. 11.

Tuesday was a different story. Other than SGA, Waters was the only other Thunder in double figures by halftime. He finished the night with a team-high four made three-pointers on nine attempts (44.4 percent).

While Mann may have more of a solid chance at making the roster next season, each game from here on out will serve as a Thunder audition for Waters.

Even if his future isn’t with the Thunder, every game showcasing his competence at this level will likely be good enough for another franchise to give him a chance to make it.

Second Takeaway: Deer ‘Ant’-ler Spray

The likes of Darius Bazley and Isaiah Roby were tasked with guarding the most impossible player to guard in today’s NBA.

It hardly looked like Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP, broke a sweat facing Oklahoma City. He breezed his way to 18 first-half points while Bazley had trouble keeping up with him. He committed three of his four personal fouls within the game’s first quarter-and-a-half and couldn’t make a dent at any other point in Tuesday’s game.

It wasn’t only The Greek Freak who exploded offensively. These are the Bucks, after all. They are the third-highest scoring team in the NBA. They made 20 of 40 3-pointers and assisted on 35 of their 53 made field goals.

If the goal of basketball is simply outscoring your opponent, the Bucks should be well on their way to repeating as NBA champions, right?

Third Takeaway: Title Defense

To answer the question I asked at the end of the Second Takeaway: Maybe! Maybe not?

The most glaring weakness for this Bucks team is their team defense. A lot of their deficiencies, as some have explained, is due to their hole in the middle.

Veteran center Brook Lopez’s defensive presence is vital, but they haven’t had him on the floor all season due to a back injury.

In direct contrast to the Bucks, Oklahoma City is the third-worst scoring team in the NBA at 102.1 points per game, but the Thunder was able to make 50 percent of its field goals (42-for-84) and 41 percent of its three-point attempts (16-for-39) despite starting guards Josh Giddey and Lu Dort being on the shelf.

Milwaukee, well aware of its defensive problem, tried to address it last month when it acquired former Thunder forward Serge Ibaka from the Los Angeles Clippers. Ibaka is long known for his block-shotting ability, but he is 32 years old now and is not the same intimidating defender that he once was in Oklahoma City.

The herd maybe beginning to thin atop the Eastern Conference, but the Bucks are by no means a clear-cut favorite to represent the conference again in this year’s NBA Finals.

Miami and Philadelphia will likely have several things to say before all is said and done.