Dunks by 6-foot-11 backup centers usually don't mean much. But Enes Kanter's fourth-quarter throwdown may have sparked something in the Oklahoma City Thunder, who look to further their momentum Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kanter has been a valuable contributor off the bench for Oklahoma City (21-10), averaging 11.7 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds. He was one of 13 players averaging at least 3.0 offensive rebounds entering play Monday, but his 20.5 minutes per game were the fewest of that group.
“I just want to help my team win,” said Kanter, whose game has flourished since arriving via trade from Utah last season. “It doesn't matter, off the bench, play one minute or 48. When I'm out there, coach tells me to bring energy and just go after rebounds and I'm just trying to do that.”
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Kanter had nine of his 21 points in a game-breaking 13-5 fourth-quarter run of Sunday's 122-112 victory over Denver, highlighted by a one-handed dunk over 6-10 Nikola Jokic off a feed from Russell Westbrook that led to a three-point play. The Thunder fed on that momentum-swinging play as Westbrook and Serge Ibaka also charged the rim for slams before Kanter capped the surge with another one at the 4:32 mark.
“Enes did a great job of coming in and being aggressive and being strong in the paint,” said Westbrook, who combined with Kevin Durant for 56 points and 22 assists as Oklahoma City shot a season-best 57.8 percent.
The Thunder, who bounced back from a Christmas Day home loss to Chicago, have won 10 of 12.
Kanter's prowess on the offensive boards could prove troublesome for the Bucks, whose average of 11.7 offensive rebounds allowed is among the highest in the league. He has proven to be a handful for Milwaukee, totaling 50 points and 30 rebounds – nine on the offensive end – in his last two matchups.
Rebounding wasn't the issue for the Bucks (12-20) on Monday in Dallas – they allowed only six offensive rebounds and amassed a 52-34 edge on the boards – but a slow-rotating defense contributed to a 103-93 setback.
Milwaukee failed to force a first-half turnover, induced an NBA season-low four overall and were outscored 26-0 in points scored off turnovers, becoming the first team this season to be shutout in that stat. The Bucks didn't help themselves defensively on the perimeter as the Mavs went 10 for 22 from 3-point range, falling to 1-13 when opponents hit at least 10 3s from beyond the arc.
The Bucks, who have lost 13 of their last 14 on the road, did have one positive as Jerryd Bayless had 19 points and seven assists off the bench after missing 11 games with a sprained left ankle.
“Usually, your rhythm is not going to be what it was before you got injured; there's a process of getting back in the flow,” Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty said. “I thought he did a very nice job of not only getting himself going but getting the team going.”
The home team won both games last season, with Oklahoma City owning a 54-31 rebounding edge in a 114-101 victory Dec. 9, 2014, as Westbrook scored 28 points and Durant added 23. The Thunder, though, did most of their damage on the fast break, outscoring the Bucks 25-3 in transition.