It looked like the Bucks were finally going to get their first win of the 2013 preseason.
After a Brandon Knight (19 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast, 8-16 FG) jumper gave the Bucks a 91-90 lead over the Memphis Grizzles with just under three minutes remaining, back-to-back triples from O.J. Mayo (14 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast, 5 to, 4-5 3P) around a pair of Marc Gasol free throws gave Milwaukee a 5-point lead with 1:04 to play. But Milwaukee's defense experienced two key breakdowns in the final minute that both resulted in 3-point plays for the Grizzlies. Meanwhile the Bucks failed to create consistently and missed the open looks they did find. Those final 64 seconds illustrated the disparity between a team pushing for championship contention and one pushing for mere respectability.
Memphis pushed the ball up the court immediately after Mayo's second three and the ball quickly made its way to Marc Gasol on the left block. Gasol caught the ball with his momentum already headed toward the basket along the baseline, where John Henson (9 pts, 12 reb, 4 ast) was powerless to slow him down. Though Henson was clearly beat, he swiped at Gasol and was whistled for a foul, but did nothing to really disrupt Gasol's attempt, giving him an and-1 to trim the lead to two. Milwaukee then tried to get a screen-and-roll going on their next possession but couldn't get past Memphis' perimeter defense. Knight dished to O.J. Mayo who dribbled out most of the shot clock before heaving a heavily contested long jumper from the right wing.
After a timeout Memphis inbounded the ball to Marc Gasol in the high post. Point guard Mike Conley cut right past him straight toward the basket and Gasol dished a perfect pass right to him. Milwaukee had sent a soft double to Gasol but the defenders had him flanked on either side with nobody really disrupting the pass or Conley's movement. Mayo tried to get a late contest up but just exacerbated things with another foul. The free-throw gave Memphis a one-point lead. Milwaukee again tried to set up a screen-and-roll with John Henson and Brandon Knight, but a poor screen got Knight swallowed up on the drive, forcing him to kick back out to Henson on an awkward-looking pick-and-pop.
That the Bucks actually had a shot to tie (a wide-open shot, I might add) is mostly irrelevant. They were completely outplayed in two key possessions with the game on the line. Such is probably to be expected with a reconstructed roster and lots of young players, but the failure to even execute something resembling a deliberate offensive set was frustrating to see.
Then again, it's just preseason.
Some more notes on the Bucks:
- Khris Middleton played a big role in the Bucks' 4th-quarter comeback, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the final period. He had struggled up to that point, shooting 2-7 through the first 36 minutes. Middleton has replicated Mike Dunleavy's catch-and-shoot style quite well, though he's not the saavy, versatile offensive weapon Dunleavy was and far less consistent. But he's a lot younger and, presumably, sprier, and it seems like he will find some minutes as long as Carlos Delfino is out.
- It was another quiet-ish night for Giannis Antetokounmpo, but an efficient one. He scored 8 points and grabbed 3 rebounds in 19 minutes, going 2-3 from the field (both dunks) and 4-4 from the line. Worth noting: Giannis might already be the most prolific foul-drawer on the roster.
- Brandon Knight did a lot of good stuff, particularly during Milwaukee's comeback, but showed his limitations in crunch time. He's fast but not fast enough to beat a strong perimeter defense. He's a pretty good shooter, but not good enough to create a good shot off the dribble. Just a lot of "almost there" situations. But in transition he looked excellent, showing an ability to get to the basket himself, draw fouls, and dish to shooters, as he did to set up the first of Mayo's back-to-back triples in the 4th. He did get caught ball-watching on defense a few times though, including on Conley's late layup.
- The Bucks managed to edge Memphis 42-40 on the glass, but the Bucks still struggled at times on the offensive boards even with Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos sitting out. Four games is still small enough to be fluky, but the Bucks have really struggled to finish off defensive possessions so far in the preseason. That needs work--failures on the defensive glass killed Milwaukee last season. John Henson is a rebound vacuum, though.
- 20-plus minutes for Knight, Mayo, and Luke Ridnour (13 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast) meant no game time for Nate Wolters Tuesday night.
- After surrendering 32 first quarter points and trailing by double digits early on, Milwaukee scraped back into the game behind hot-shooting from Ridnour (10 of his 13 points in the first half) to close the halftime gap to just five.
- While both teams were missing a number of key rotation pieces, Larry Drew and Dave Joerger both played their starters down the stretch, apparently in an effort to actually win the game. On a related note, the Bucks' season opener is now just two weeks away.