Game Coverage: Bucks vs Hornets coverage
After a scintillating start filled with highlight reel shot-making and ball movement, the wheels fell off the Milwaukee Bucks' wagon in startling fashion, crashing in overtime 108-106 in Charlotte on Wednesday night.
The Bucks (0-1) led by 24 with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter at 74-50, and all seemed right with the world. The first half was dominated by the young Bucks, particularly the guard play by Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo. Knight was composed and collected for the majority of the first thirty minutes, occasionally settling for contested pull-up jumpers, but leading the Bucks with 18 points and 11 assists after three. Mayo was red hot in the second quarter on 5-6 shooting (3 of 4 from deep), but was just 1-4 in the second half. The ball movement was stellar, the positioning even better. The Bucks seemed one step ahead of the Charlotte Hornets (1-0) from the get-go.
But bad things happen when your offense gets stagnant, which it did midway through the third. Milwaukee settled for three straight pull-up jumpers (two from Knight, one from Parker), and the lead was down to 15 in three minutes. It stayed at fifteen (83-68) entering the fourth.
The final frame was a mess. A twelve minute case study in how not to close out a ballgame that was firmly in hand. With Charlotte closing down the paint, the Bucks still tried to drive. The Hornets were no longer a step behind, and the transition game that was so prevalent in the first half disappeared. The Bucks went the final 5:09 of regulation without a basket. It was what we expect from time to time with this team... a young group making youthful mistakes. But after that first half, it was stunning to see it devolve so quickly.
A brutal sequence for Khris Middleton with four minutes remaining, a couple of turnovers and a missed open jumper. Brandon Knight getting rejected by Jefferson with ease with two minutes left. Jabari Parker losing the ball in the paint with under a minute to go leading by three. Middleton missing his first free throw with seven seconds remaining with a two point lead. Sanders not challenging Kemba Walker while he drained the game-tying three. Jason Kidd opting not to foul Walker in the first place. Boom. 100 all after 48 minutes. A 24-point lead evaporated in eighteen minutes.
Overtime saw the usual trading of punches that NBA overtimes have come to be, knotted up at 106-106 with 16 seconds to go. After Kemba Walker hit a terrific, high-arching step-back jumper from the top of the key, the Bucks trailed for the first time since the end of the first quarter with five seconds left.
The play was perfect. Could not have been designed better. Dudley grabbed the inbounds, waited for Pachulia's screen to free Middleton for the wide-open three-ball on the left wing. It worked perfectly. It just didn't go in.
The 24-point comeback is the largest in Charlotte's NBA history, Hornets or Bobcats. It's a stiff learning experience for the Bucks as this retool begins. No one seemed prepared to close out this ballgame. It will come over time. It just didn't happen Wednesday.
Brandon Knight brought us his good and his bad, the shot-making we've seen from him scattered amongst lapses in judgment. Khris Middleton shot the ball nearly every time he got it, taking the role of black hole instead of go-to scorer. His 17 points felt empty. Jabari Parker had flashes in his first career game, a few highlight reel baskets coupled (his first basket was fun... as was this one) with being just a step too slow on defense (former Buck great Gary Neal blew by him to tie the game late in overtime). Giannis was conspicuously absent in the fourth quarter and overtime.
This recap might skew negative, it's hard not to after blowing a couple dozen point lead in the second half. But there was a lot to like here. Nearly everyone had a high quality moment of play with the exception of Pachulia, who was first off the bench and struggled mightily on both ends. John Henson had a very nice game, in my eyes, even when put in a defensive mismatch with Jason Maxiell. And the first half was flat out great, with a flow to the offense we haven't seen in years. The Bucks led from the very early stages of the second quarter until the final seconds of overtime.
On a team with thirteen players all looking for minutes, some will be left out in the cold. In a bit of a surprising move, it was two guards who didn't hit the floor tonight... Kendall Marshall and Nate Wolters. There are 81 more games, they'll get their time.
What to take out of a game like this? Well, it's pretty much a microcosm of what we expect this team to be this year. Some really exciting, breathtaking moments alongside a few hits to the head with a hammer and no real answers on what all of this will look like.
So, I ask you all... your biggest takeaway from a night like tonight? More positives or more negatives? There are strong cases for both.
It was really fun until it wasn't. We may want to get used to this.