OKLAHOMA CITY — Eventually, the Thunder are going to win one of these. Despite a sparkling finish, it wasn’t Sunday.
Instead, it was Milwaukee walking out with a 121-119 victory that came despite a number of things:
A 39-point fourth-quarter from the Thunder; an end-of-game 18-9 run from the Thunder; and perhaps the most unusual forced turnover you’ll ever see in the NBA.
It was a five-second inbounds call whistled against the Bucks following a made Thunder basket from Chris Paul that brought Oklahoma City within 114-11 with 41.3 seconds remaining.
It felt like a quick count, but the Thunder were happy to take advantage, with Danilo Gallinari, in the middle of a horrid 4 of 17 shooting night, burying a tying 3-pointer in the face of reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Oklahoma City had trailed ever since leading 63-54 early in the third quarter, only to watch Milwaukee go on a 20-1 run that built a 10-point lead the other way.
Prior the final moments, OKC had whittled the deficit down to two points, only to watch it balloon back to 13, only to desperately claw into it again.
Now it was tied.
On the Bucks’ following possession, Antetokounpo, who’d already scored all of his 35 points, was allowed to drive toward the paint where the Thunder had a wall waiting for him.
His response was to pass back out beyond the 3-point arc to center Brook Lopez, who despite being 7-feet, 270 pounds, possesses a deft touch from deep.
"Great by Giannis to trust his teammates," Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Lopez swished the 3-pointer, his third of the game, and Oklahoma City never did get the ball with a chance to take the lead, a fact aided by the Bucks’ 9 of 9 free-throw shooting in the final frame.
“I thought our guys battled and competed for the entire game,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said. “There were some lulls for us offensively there in the second half, but it certainly didn’t feel like the other night in San Antonio.”
Paul wasn’t as charitable.
“I think the biggest thing is we’ve got to figure out our third quarters,” he said. “Once we figure that out, we’ll be in a good place.”
Gallinari wasn’t the only Thunder player primed to play the hero had Oklahoma City pulled it out.
Dennis Schroder, off the bench, led the Thunder with 25 points, nine in the fourth quarter, including a pull-up 15 footer, followed by back-to-back 3s, a span of three possessions that brought OKC from down 112-101 to down 114-109.
Additionally, the Thunder were without center Steven Adams, but that only created more opportunity for Nerlens Noel and Mike Muscala.
Noel only grabbed three rebounds, but hit 6 of 9 shots to finish with 14 points, six assists and two blocked shots.
Muscala took all nine of his shots from 3-point land, making four to finish with 12 points.
Shai Gilgeous Alexander was very good, finishing with 22 points, 10 in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed six rebounds and dished six assists.
Paul finished with 15 points, five assists and five rebounds.
Oklahoma City couldn’t stop Antetokounmpo, though it did frustrate him. He made 13 of 19 shots, but also committed a game-high seven of the Bucks’ 22 turnovers.
Eric Bledsoe added 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 4 of 6 from 3-point land.
The Bucks shot 56.6 percent (47 of 83) overall and 39.3 percent (11 of 28) from beyond the 3-point arc. The Thunder hit 49.5 percent (45 of 91) and a healthy 40 percent (17 of 42) from 3-point land, despite Gallinari missing 8 of 10.
“I thought it was a great game, great effort,” Gallinari said. “We always fought back and we didn’t shoot the ball … especially me … Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
The Thunder get back on the court at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Indiana. They’re back home again when Philadelphia visits Friday.