A road win?
Against a team that isn't the Celtics?
Call it dumb luck or a sign of genuine improvement, but the Bucks indeed managed a surprise win over the good-for-the-East Washington Wizards on Friday night. And the better news is who was behind it: no Buck over the age of 26 played more than three minutes on Friday, with three 22-year-olds playing starring roles in the nation's capital.
A monster night on both ends from John Henson (19 pts, 8/10 fg, 17 rebs, 4 ast), a career scoring night from Khris Middleton (29 pts, 11/22 fg, 4/7 threes, 7 rebs) and some big plays late from Brandon Knight (20 pts, 6/16 fg, 6 reb, 6 ast, 4 to) did the trick against John Wall and company, as the Bucks blew a 15-point lead only to tie the game late and hang on for a 109-105 win in overtime.
Wall delivered another 30-point effort (9/23 fg, 8 ast, 5 to) and Trevor Ariza added 22 points (6/12 fg, 5/10 threes) and 12 boards for Washington, which lost Martell Webster to a turned ankle at the end of the first quarter and saw Nene exit in the third quarter with foot tendinitis. Nene's exit was particularly poor timing given it came just as Washington was beginning to make use of its size inside. Instead, Henson and the Bucks' shorthanded frontline both outrebounded (48-46) and outscored the Wizards in the paint (52-34), phrases I've said maybe once or twice all year. Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't have a huge night on his 19th birthday, but the rook did deliver his usual dose of energy in 19 minutes (3/6 fg, 6 pts, 4 rebs, 1 blk) as did Nate Wolters (4 pts, 2/8 fg, 5 ast, 1 to in 17 minutes).
Washington led 102-97 on Wall's jump shot with less than a minute left, but a quick slashing hoop from Middleton and a long three from Knight tied the game with 15 seconds left. With a chance to win it, Wall was then cut off nicely in pick-and-roll by Henson, forcing Washington to settle for a wayward Chris Singleton three at the buzzer.
Henson's bail-out jumper got the Bucks off on the right foot in overtime, and Knight then took over with a fast break assist to Ersan Ilyasova and a 20-foot jumper to give the Bucks a three-point lead with 22 seconds left. In contrast, Washington bricked all five of its shot attempts and scored its only three points after Ariza was fouled from the behind the arc, but still had a chance to tie it when they got the ball back down 108-105. Instead, Wall and Glen Rice Jr. botched a faked wing hand off, with Wall stepping out of bounds and Knight subsequently icing the game with a free throw to provide the final margin of victory.
The Bucks took a 56-43 halftime lead on the backs of Middleton (7/11 fg, 3/6 threes, 20 points) and Henson (11 pts, 11 rebs), though the game didn't exactly start out as Larry Drew had hoped. Henson was caught in no-man's land on a Marcin Gortat pick-and-roll finish on the game's very first possession, inspiring Drew to call a 20-second timeout just 27 seconds into the game.
Apparently what he said worked.
Gortat didn't score again in the half while Henson looked lively on both ends, helping the Bucks race to a 26-10 first-half advantage in the paint. Both teams scored easily in a fast-paced first quarter, but a 9-0 Milwaukee run punctuated by Antetokounmpo's transition slam gave the Bucks a 38-30 lead that would swell to 15 on a sweet isolation drive and lefty finish by Wolters with 16 seconds left in the half.
The Wizards looked better to start the third, with Nene attacking Ilyasova to start the quarter and a steady diet of Wall pick-and-rolls setting up a more free-flowing offense that saw Ariza drill four threes in the period. Still, the Bucks led by four heading into the fourth quarter and didn't trail until Trevor Booker's dunk with 8:21 remaining. On many nights that would have probably been curtains for the Bucks, but they hung tough largely thanks to Knight (9 points in the final eight minutes).
- Knight looked to be headed to a rather disappointing evening against his fellow Kentucky alum Wall, but he delivered late with 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime while playing solid defense on Wall. He's clearly growing in confidence and has put up 16.8 ppg and 5.0 apg over the last five games, which is good news even if it doesn't help the Bucks' lottery standings.
Though Knight has had a number of slow starts of late, tonight he actually started aggressively with six quick points before going to the bench with two fouls in the first quarter. Once back in the game he continued attacking, which is a bit of a double-edged sword with him. Most of his turnovers come from trying to do a bit too much--squeezing a tight pass in or dribbling at 100 mph into a crowd--but the pressure he's been putting on defenses has been a major shot in the arm for the Bucks' 30th-ranked offense. He's also looked better in pick-and-roll, making simple plays and not crossing back over towards his screener as he frequently did in Detroit.
- Though he once again struggled shooting the ball (2/8 fg), Wolters saw early minutes after three straight DNP-CDs and generally played as he has previously: moving the ball (5 ast), not turning it over (1 turnover) and giving an honest effort on the defensive end. That left just three minutes for Luke Ridnour, who simply hasn't played well enough to deserve minutes over the rookie thus far.
- Ridnour was the only Buck over the age of 26 to play, which might be the coolest stat to report from tonight. Some of that was due to injuries to Caron Butler and Zaza Pachuia, but Gary Neal DNP-CD'd and Ridnour--for one game at least--seems to have lost his backup job to Wolters. Keep it up, Larry Drew.
- Giannis was basically Giannis on his 19th birthday: an explosive dunk were his only first half points, though he almost doubled it with an alley-oop that somehow rattled out. He had an and-one opportunity late in the third when he corralled an airball and finished at the rim, and restored the Bucks' four-point early in the fourth with a nifty drive and banking finish off one foot.
- O.J. Mayo added a quiet 17 points...so quiet I hadn't mentioned it until now. That's primarily because he needed 16 shots to get there and also turned it over four times, including three in the final eight minutes of regulation. Watching Mayo and Knight struggle with ball-control might be the most nerve-wracking thing about this team right now, which is saying something given the indifference most of us have to actual wins and losses.