MAN did the Bucks need a win. Like, regardless of you personal feelings on where this season has been and where it's going, they needed something to feel good about.
The Boston Celtics, it seems, are the team that brings out the best in the Bucks this year. They rallied from a 22-point second-half deficit for their first win just over a month ago. Then on Saturday, Milwaukee put together a semi-complete game, a modestly-respectable 8-point efficiency differential after 48 minutes of...excitement?
Yes, the Bucks needed a win, but the manner in which they secured victory was likely of greater interest to fans than the outcome itself. Fans have been clamoring for extended minutes from the Bucks' young players for weeks, the calls intensifying every time another loss was tacked on to Milwaukee's ignominious streak. It must have been wonderful, then, to see the Bucks turn the controls over to a pair of (hopefully) future fixtures on the roster: Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Knight, who recently returned from injury to reclaim the starting point guard role, must have had some sort of Thanksgiving dinner, because in the two games since he's looked like a completely different player. He's made 14 of his last 25 shots, including 4 of 6 three-pointers. After turning the ball over at least 4 times in each of his last 4 games, Knight has committed just 5 in his last 2, and they've generally been more tolerable--fewer live-ball turnovers leading to fast breaks, more offensive fouls off aggressive moves to the hoop. Turnovers are turnovers, and Knight is still too reckless at times, but there has definitely been improvement.
There's been a lot more to like about Knight's game recently, particularly his pacing. Larry Drew wanted to emphasize not just true transition offense (a struggle thus far), but a fast-developing attack on every possession. Knight has embraced that, getting the ball up the court quick after every defensive stop and frequently attacking the rim. Combined with a crisp outside shot, Knight has changed the way Milwaukee's offense functions and put himself at the center, just where the Bucks hope he can stay.
Maybe even more thrilling to watch has been the play of Antetokounmpo, who put together his best game yet against the Celtics. There's a reason the Bucks created a Twitter feed with the sole purpose of announcing when Giannis has taken the court--the guy is capable of a highlight-reel play every minute he's out there. The problem has been getting him in position to make those plays. Giannis often spent a majority of whatever minutes were afforded him standing around on the perimeter waiting for a spot-up shooting opportunity. He was typically good for a sneaky baseline cut or blocked shot, but we all knew there was more to his game even now. Against the Celtics, it was all on display. Giannis ignited the crowd with an electrifying sequence, scoring a chasedown block and an emphatic slam in quick succession. In fairness, the play was tripped by his own miscue--a turnover in traffic that nearly led to a breakaway layup. But the tools he displayed in his response and throughout the game are simply sensational. And let's not ignore the less flashy stuff: Antetokounmpo is now shooting 50% from the floor and over 46% from behind the arc. Per 36 minutes, he's averaging 12.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, a block, and a steal. Saturday vs. Boston was his first multi-assist game, but there are sure to be more if he's given the minutes.
There's not a lot to be excited about cheering for a team ranked in the bottom third of the NBA on offense and defense. It means a boring brand of basketball without even the chance of success to keep people interested. If Knight and Antetokounmpo keep up the momentum they've built in the last few days, there could be good news on the rankings front--and even more when it comes to sheer watchability.