MILWAUKEE — Don’t look now, but the Milwaukee Bucks are on a roll.
After a thrilling victory over then-undefeated Memphis Saturday night, the Bucks followed with a 85-78 victory Tuesday over the Oklahoma City Thunder, marking the first time since March 2013 that the franchise — which finished an NBA-worst 15-67 a year ago — has won back-to-back games.
“It is something positive,” shooting guard O.J. Mayo said. “It didn’t happen for us last year but we put last year behind us. This year it happened early.”
For the second straight game, forward Giannis Antetokounmpo played a leading role for Milwaukee.
He set a career high with 18 points against the Grizzles, then came back with 14 against the Thunder on 6-of-13 shooting with nine rebounds and a pair of blocked shots in 25 minutes off the bench. He spent most of his time playing power forward against the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka.
“Game by game, practice by practice, I get more comfortable,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think it is a spot that can help me because I usually play with bigger guys than me. So far, I like it.”
Antetokounmpo’s effort was part of a strong showing by Milwaukee’s reserves, which produced 53 of the Bucks’ points on 45 percent shooting. Mayo contributed a team-high 19 of those points and center Zaza Pachulia added eight, along with 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
The Bucks’ bench came up big in the second quarter.
Milwaukee went 7-for-20 from the field and turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter, to fall behind 22-15. But things turned around quickly after Bucks coach Jason Kidd went to his second unit. Pachulia hit three of four shots and pulled down six of his boards while Antetokounmpo, point guard Nate Wolters and guard Jerryd Bayless each added four during the quarter, as Milwaukee outscored the Thunder by 10 and took a 41-38 lead into the break.
“They all give us a spark,” Kidd said. “That’s the nice thing about being a young, deep team. We’re able to call on those guys when we’re a little flat and tonight, those guys responded.”
The Thunder’s zone defense kept things close after halftime, especially in the final quarter when Milwaukee went 5 for 19 from the field and 0 for 6 from the 3-point line, but it wasn’t enough to make up for a 5-of-20 fourth quarter.
“I didn’t come through enough,” Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson said. “I tried to get my teammates some easier baskets, and defensively, we need to do better in order for us to win.”
Jackson hit 12 of 21 field-goal attempts and hit two 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 29 points,
Ibaka added 14 points with seven rebounds and guard Anthony Morrow, in the lineup for the first time this season, scored 10 points in 15 minutes off the bench.
“We competed,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “We couldn’t make any shots. We started off moving the ball really well in that first quarter, but we stopped making shots in the second and then we didn’t move the ball well at all in the second half.
“We have to come back tomorrow, look at some film and come back tomorrow night. That’s the thing about the NBA, you can’t worry about tonight’s game, you have to focus on the next one.”
The loss dropped Oklahoma City to 0-5 on the road this season.
NOTES: With eight players out due to injury this season, the Thunder got a boost Tuesday with the return of G Anthony Morrow, who had not played this season while recovering from a strained left MCL. Head coach Scott Brooks said Morrow would play between 10-17 minutes against the Bucks. He played 15 minutes. … Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo has reached double-digit scoring in five of his eight games this season. … Milwaukee’s 9.9 steals per game before Tuesday represent the third-highest mark in the NBA this season. … The Thunder began the day 0-4 on the road this season. They are now 0-5 … The Bucks announced shortly before tipoff that F Khris Middleton would dress but wasn’t likely to play because of a sore right knee. He did not play. … Milwaukee has held its last five opponents to less than 100 points.
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