And that’s a wrap. In a game where one team desperately needed a win to have a chance in the playoffs while the other had nothing to play for, both came ready to play for game 82. The Thunder needed to win this one badly, as this was their last chance to avoid Golden State in the first round. The Bucks had solidified their spot atop the NBA standings which resulted in depleted lineup available for the final regular season game. It was a well fought game, but Oklahoma City had just enough to get past the Bucks, 127-116. This recap will be shorter than usual, as half the team was out and Milwaukee couldn’t have cared less about the outcome of this one.
Milwaukee was without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Eric Bledsoe due to rest along with the rest of their injuries which left a shortened roster for the final game. Oklahoma City was without their MVP and DPOY candidate Paul George in a game that he is greatly needed. The only regular starter for the Bucks was Khris Middleton who was accompanied by Colson, Wilson, Frazier, and Ilyasova. Game 82 began with an acrobatic layup from D.J. Wilson and followed that up with a corner three.
Wilson continued to be the star of the quarter with a jump and tuck dunk to give himself seven of the first ten Bucks points just four minutes in. On defense, Milwaukee ran their famous 2-3 zone that they use exclusively when their bench is shorter than usual. It allows them to play lineups like Frazier, Brown, Connaughton, Wilson, and Colson like they tried in the first quarter. It worked for the most part, which can be attributed to the Bucks forcing four turnovers to lead 31-29 through twelve minutes. Frazier and Wilson had 9 points each in the quarter.
The lead went up by four within the first minute of the second quarter after a couple of jumpers from Khris. Wilson still had the heat and hit a corner three shortly after. Yet, the shorter lineup Milwaukee was using left the Thunder to get nearly every offensive rebound to stay within distance. It was also very odd to see Russell Westbrook have to matchup with Tim Frazier and the game still be nearly tied the whole first half. The score was 41-41 halfway through the second when the Thunder took their first lead since the end of the first quarter with a few threes in a row.
Within a three minute span, the Thunder went on an 18-0 run and held a 55-45 lead at the TV timeout with four minutes to go in the half. The game looked like it was finally slipping from the Bucks as it was expected to. Milwaukee’s bench lineup continued to fight but it could only do so much against a fast-paced and hungry Thunder team. Oklahoma City took a 68-58 lead into the locker room behind 50% shooting from three. Jerami Grant led the Thunder with nineteen points and 3-5 from deep. Four Bucks scored in double figures but none exceeded twelve points.
The second half began with two straight scoring possessions by the Bucks to pull within six. That didn’t last long and the lead was back to double digits within seconds. Milwaukee went with their starting lineup that included the Bucks’ only active player anywhere near the height of a traditional center in Ersan Ilyasova. The defense continued to give up wide open threes while in the zone and were only able to make runs when the Thunder couldn’t hit those shots. The lead for the Thunder was down to five halfway through the third quarter.
The rest of the quarter didn’t quite go as well. Although Oklahoma City was still struggling to hit their shots, the Bucks couldn’t capitalize on most of their opportunities to shrink the lead. Through 36 minutes of play, the Thunder led 98-89 in a relatively high scoring contest. Grant was up to 26 points and Westbrook was just below a triple-double with 13/8/15. The Thunder still held the three point percentage advantage by a lot, 45% to 35%.
Milwaukee got the lead down to seven right away in the final period but the Thunder took advantage of a tired defense and attacked the lane much more often. The lead was fourteen at the first timeout four minutes into the quarter. The Thunder continued to push the pace and it was ultimately too much for Milwaukee. Other than a little shoving between Sterling Brown and Russell Westbrook, the ending was rather uneventful. The final score of the final game of the season: 127-116.
Tim Frazier had himself a game with a career high in points and a stat line of 29/6/13, Giannis-like numbers. D.J. Wilson had a couple career highs of his own in points and rebounds with 18/17/4. Khris had the only positive +/- with 21/5/1 in 17 minutes on the floor.
As I’ve already said, this game meant everything to Oklahoma City’s season. They knew that if they lost this game to a resting Bucks team, the result would inevitably mean a trip to Golden State in the first round of the playoffs. A win would give them the sixth seed and presumably an easier game than the NBA Finals favorites. On the other end of the spectrum, Milwaukee had achieved all of their goals already. They had the best record in the league, home court throughout the playoffs clinched, and the milestone of a 60-win season. It showed with the all-bench + Khris lineup that Coach Bud rolled out. They fought valiantly, but eventually succumbed to the deep lineup and drive that the Thunder had in this one. Not to mention the 2-3 zone defense was the worst protecting of the three point line the Bucks have had all season, even for a team that ranks bottom five in the league.
Milwaukee will play the Detroit Pistons in the first round. I’ll have a blog previewing the matchup prior to the start of the series this weekend. But until then, just enjoy the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks finished the 2018-2019 regular season with a record of 60-22 and the best record in the NBA.