Thursday provided two of the top teams in the Western Conference going head-to-head, despite what their records say. The Houston Rockets were defeated by a Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder 98-80 as their struggles continue.
In the late game the Western Conference's best team, the Golden State Warriors, took on one of the Eastern Conference's hottest teams in the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks controlled the tempo the entire game resulting in a 134-111 victory at Oracle Arena.
Lets take a look at some of the key takeaways from each game.
Thunder 98, Rockets 80
Houston's slow start
With four minutes left in the first quarter the Rockets tied the game at 19. In the final four minutes they let the Thunder go on a 10-0 run and they never recovered. Houston only trailed by 14 at the half but the numbers weren't pretty. Their bench had only scored three points shooting a combined 1-for-12 from the field and 1-for-9 from three. Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony combined for zero points in the half, missing four and five shots respectively.
Houston had 11 of their 17 turnovers in the first half. They were out-rebounded 24-16 and just in general, out-hustled. The Rockets' depth has been an issue early in this season and when Paul is struggling to score this team will struggle to win.
They shot 11-for-42 from beyond the arc and only got to the free throw line 10 times the entire game. Even on a cold shooting night they insisted on settling for outside shots instead of attacking the rim and it resulted in only 80 points and a loss. The last time the Rockets scored 80 points or less in a game was the 2017 Western Conference semi-finals Game 6 when they lost 114-75 to the San Antonio Spurs, knocking them out of the playoffs.
Paul George's hot and cold game
George didn't start this the way he'd like, going 1-for-5 from the field in the first frame, but he still found a way to make his presence felt. He had four assists and two steals, doing what he could to make an impact without scoring.
With Westbrook out, he had to continue to look for his shot despite the cold start. He followed that first quarter by scoring 14 in the second, shooting 5-for-5 from the field and 3-for-3 from three. His hot hand did not carry over through halftime unfortunately, as he shot 1-for-10 in the third quarter missing all six of his three-point attempts. He only took one shot in the fourth but his teammates picked him up, ultimately winning the game on the defensive end.
When his shots weren't falling he was still able to change the outcome by grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing six assists and adding six steals to his totals.
The Thunder backed their way into this win behind solid defense and a good team effort. Steven Adams was fantastic the whole night anchoring the defense but also providing much needed offense with 19 points, four assists and six offensive rebounds. OKC has now won seven consecutive games after starting 0-4.
Bucks 134, Warriors 111
Balanced scoring Bucks
Milwaukee came into Oracle Arena trying to send a message to the defending champions and the rest of the league. They were firing on all cylinders all game long and used big nights from multiple players to pull off a great road win.
Giannis Antetokounmpo did his part, as he always does, with 24 points and nine rebounds but it was his supporting cast who stole the show tonight. Eric Bledsoe was terrific all night, going for a season-high 26 points on an extremely efficient 10-for-12 from the field. He was making things happen on the offensive end all night long, dishing out six assists to go with his scoring total. Malcolm Brogdon (20 points), Khris Middleton (17) and Pat Connaughton (15) all joined them in double-figures.
Milwaukee out-rebounded Golden State and forced them to turn the ball over 18 times on 11 steals. They didn't shoot it great from the perimeter (9-for-35, 25.7 percent) but attacked the basket to shoot 51.5 percent from the field and getting to the free throw line 27 times.
A game to forget
A complete opposite aspect for the Warriors - they were sloppy with the ball, didn't rebound well and lacked energy. They were without Draymond Green for the game and Stephen Curry left the game in the third quarter with a left adductor strain and never returned.
It was a rather bland game from Kevin Durant who shot 6-for-15 from the field, only attempting two three-pointers, for a total of 17 points. He used nine assists to keep the offence in rhythm but in a game without Curry and Green, they needed more scoring from the Finals MVP. Klay Thompson scored 24 points on a fairly efficient night but the Warriors lacked the depth to keep up with the high-energy Bucks. The Bucks only made nine threes and where the Warriors could have used three-point shooting to create a difference in this contest, they only made 10 shots from deep.
They played this contest like the early November game that it was and the Bucks played like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals.