Reminder: NBA basketball can still be fun.
In a season where the Milwaukee Bucks have struggled to compete, let alone win, Milwaukee gave its long-suffering fans something to cheer in a game that--given the circumstances--had pretty much everything you could have hoped for on a sleepy Monday night in Milwaukee.
A big-name villain making big shots for his team from the Big Apple? Carmelo Anthony had that covered with 36 big points for the Bad Guy Knicks, including 17 points in the fourth quarter and a stunningly wide open game-tying three with 20 seconds remaining.
What about a youngster making critical plays while playing in front of his family for the first time as a pro? Check: Giannis Antetokounmpo piled up 15 points (5/9 fg, 5/8 ft, 3 reb, 2 ast) in his first game since his parents and two younger brothers arrived in America, including an energizing eight points in the fourth as the Bucks were trying to stave off a Knick rally.
And what would a great game be without a clutch game-winner? Don't worry, Brandon Knight had the late-game heroics covered, capping a 25-point night by drilling a pull-up three with two seconds left to give the Bucks a 101-98 win. Anthony had one last chance to tie it, but the Bucks smothered him on a well-covered prayer that went harmlessly wide as the buzzer sounded. And there was much rejoicing, including from the Adetokunbo/Antetokounmpo family:
Don't expect Mike Woodson to be thrilled with the Knicks' effort tonight--no one likes losing to the worst team in the league--but the end result was just desserts for a Bucks team that played with energy and even managed to execute offensively for much of the night. Anthony (5/10 threes, 13/25 overall) and J.R. Smith (9/17 fg, 6/11 threes, 30 points) punished the Bucks from deep all night, but the Bucks counterpunched through the marksmanship of Knight (4/8 threes) and Khris Middleton (6/9 fg, 5/6 threes, 19 points), never trailing after taking a 37-35 lead at the four minute mark of the second quarter.
The game comes as both a sigh of relief and a shot in the arm for a Bucks team that's shown some long-overdue signs of life in the past two games. Whether that means they'll be more competitive going forward is anyone's guess, but they can't get much worse than they were during a 1-14 January that saw them just going through the motions half the time.
- Anthony got his points, which will obscure the fact that Ersan Ilyasova (13 pts, 8 rebs) actually defended him gamely for the first three quarters. I know, I don't believe it either. Khris Middleton and Ersan shared the task of checking Melo late in the fourth, though the Bucks found themselves switching liberally and all too often got burned by mismatches and open looks in the process.
Anthony was mostly content to settle for jumpers through three quarters, but seemed to flip a switch in the fourth and began to attack more consistently down the stretch. Note: he's good.
- Larry Sanders (8 pts, 3/4 fg, 11 rebs, 1 block) outplayed Tyson Chandler for most of the game, but he picked up two quick fouls against Amare Stoudemire late in the third and then fouled out after getting called for three fouls in less than two minutes late in the fourth.
- Zaza Pachulia came in and filled in admirably in Larry's stead, piling up 12 points and 7 rebounds mostly through savvy P&R work. He also delivered a perfect backdoor bounce pass to Knight for a layup in the final minute to put the Bucks up 98-95, and the prettiest play of the night may have come on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe P&R play where Giannis found Zaza who then shuttled it to Ersan for a layup.
- Having previously been unable to get visas, Antetokounmpo's parents and brothers finally arrived in the U.S. yesterday and watched the game from the row in front of Herb Kohl tonight. They clapped modestly when Giannis first checked in midway through the first, but they predictably got into it as the game went on. Thankfully the FS Wisconsin broadcast kept close tabs on them throughout the game, delivering some great reaction shots in the fourth quarter.
- Aside from a badly missed catch-and-shoot long two in the first half, Giannis was in attack mode all game and it paid off again and again. After missing his first couple shots, Giannis scored impressively on consecutive possessions in the second quarter: the first driving left and hanging for a short jumper, followed by another hard drive left that he finished with a lefty layup. He added three more buckets and eight points in the fourth: a follow-slam on the break, a corkscrewing transition finish and a pretty reverse layup:
- Caron Butler came down awkwardly on his ankle after a jumper in the third quarter and was unable to put weight on it as he was carried off the court. No word yet on the severity of the injury,but it didn't look promising.
- Jim Paschke mentioned during the game that GIannis' 16-year-old brother Kostas had grown from 6'4" to nearly 6'7" in the five months since Giannis had last seen him. There had been talk in the fall of Kostas playing at White Fish Bay Dominican this year, but that was put on hold when the family was unable to obtain visas.
- O.J. Mayo is finally over the illness that has shelved him for the past couple weeks, but Drew said before the game he wants to get Mayo back into a practice rhythm before putting him back on the court.