"You get the feeling (the Indiana Pacers) are not too concerned." - Jim Paschke
That sentiment stretched across the Fox Sports Wisconsin airwaves in the second quarter of the Milwaukee Bucks' 101-96 loss to the Pacers. It was a loss in which the Bucks kept pace, at times frustratingly so for Indiana, until the Pacers remembered they're the Pacers and logically should have dispatched of the Bucks long before the two minute mark in the fourth quarter.
Even with Indiana's perfunctorily terrific defense and bench play, this is the NBA (to quote Scott Skiles). Underwhelming routinely beats overachieving, especially when underwhelming ranks first in scoring (+8.1) and rating (+8.3) differential.
Gone is the trade deadline. Gone is any short-term reason to root for Milwaukee to finally win two games in a row. It's OK to set a Google Reminder for May 20 and June 26. Even so, this was a loss even Bucks fans soaked in schadenfreude can appreciate; one that showcased potential in all its fantastic hopefulness.
Even in a season of perpetual failure, you want to feel like there's progression happening somewhere on the court. You need to feel like there's a compelling reason to consume a team sporting the NBA's worst record and second worst offense and defense.
Thursday night, it was clutch shooting from Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight, and inspired bench work from a few veterans (OJ Mayo, Ramon Sessions) that could plausibly wear a Bucks uniform for the next couple years.
Yet, the Bucks got carefully sanded down by the post strength of Roy Hibbert (24 pts, 10-16 FG, 12 rbs, 2 blks) and David West (9 pts, 4-8 FG, 4 rbs, 4 asts), and gave Lance Stephenson (18 pts, 7-11 FG, 6 rbs, 3 asts, 2 stls) and Paul George (18 pts, 7-15 FG, 8 rbs, 6 asts) a loan on next week's lunch money. But they also exploited a tepid Indiana bench (21-7 second quarter run), connected on 12 threes for the second game in a row, and made things interesting in crunch time.
Player Contributions, In 35 words Or Less:
Khris Middleton (22 pts, 9-15 FG, 3-4 3FG, 3 stls, 2 rbs) - Hit a trifecta of triples and brought the Bucks within two as the second quarter waned. Middleton's shot always seems quick, balanced, and uncontested.
Ersan Ilyasova (9 pts, 3-7 FG, 11 rbs)- Every time my cat tries to eat my other cat's food, I squirt him with water. Larry Drew should experiment with this Pavlov-ian treatment every time Ersan pump fakes in practice.
Zaza Pachulia (2 pts, 1-8 FG, 6 rbs, 2 asts) - Roy Hibbert matched his Saturday output against the Bucks (4 pts) not 5 minutes into the game. Chunk had five offensive boards, but it can't mask 1-8 or Hibbert's overall productivity.
Nate Wolters (4 pts, 2-4 FG, 1 semi-hilarious block on Lance Stephenson) - Nate Dogg had a couple cute runners, but couldn't do much thanks to a couple of bum ankles. If anyone is looking for the David Eckstein of NBA basketball, he's right here.
Brandon Knight (23 psts, 10-20 FG, 3-7 3FG, 5 asts, 2 rbs) - I was impressed with his body control in traffic, if only because it looked ugly until the shot dropped. Knight had a couple late threes and only turned the ball over once.
OJ Mayo (14 pts, 5-14 FG, 3-9 3FG, 2 blks) - This.
Jeff Adrien (4 pts, 2-3 FG, 6 rbs) - I don't remember watching Adrien in Golden State, Houston, or Charlotte, but he looks like a stronger, more explosive version of Jon Brockman. He's worth a (cheap) look this offseason.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (5 pts, 2-4 FG, 3 rbs, 3 asts) - Not much to see here, save for Giannis' addiction to pushing the pace hard in transition and his "Die Hard" mentality defending penetration.
Ramon Sessions (13 pts, 4-8 FG, 5 asts) - Sessions is already the Bucks' best drive-and-kick option. He was crucial in the Bucks' second quarter sprint back to relevance, hitting Mayo on a couple perimeter kick-outs. He's another guy worth a low-priced flyer.