Never a worry, right?
After stretching their lead to 26 in the second half, the Bucks had to hang on for the victory over the New York Knicks. Milwaukee ended the first half on a 30-9 run and everyone was having fun, but a consistent effort it was not. An 18 point lead with 8 minutes to go was shrunk down to as few as two points with seven seconds left, and the situation could have been much worse if the Knicks hadn't been similarly clumsy.
Still, a win is a win--the fourth in five games--and the Bucks are over .500 for the first time since
the Reagan Administration March of 2013. That is a cool thing.
When the Bucks were cooking, just about everyone was getting in on the action. They had seven players score in double figures, led by Ersan Ilyasova (20p), Zaza Pachulia (14p/13r/4a), and Brandon Knight (14p/9a). Part of that success can be attributed to the porous Knicks' defense, but the Bucks were playing with a great amount of energy and unselfishness to the tune of 30 assists on 43 made field goals. Milwaukee also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds on the night, and out-rebounded the Knicks 44-28. Not much to complain about there.
With Larry Sanders being a late scratch with a left thigh contusion, the Bucks were significantly less effective defensively, letting New York shoot 55 percent from the field. Once the Knicks were able to string together a few stops in the second half, they were able to chip away at the lead. Carmelo Anthony (26p/6r/5a) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (24 points) got going a little bit, and Iman Shumpert (21p/8r/8a/3s/awesome hair) continued to bother an unraveling Bucks team on both ends of the floor.
Though the Bucks didn't score much (or sometimes even get shots) down the stretch, they were able to get timely baskets from Ilyasova and Khris Middleton, and created just enough breathing room from the charity stripe to keep the Knicks from having a chance to tie or take the lead. It wasn't easy on the blood pressure, but it ended on a positive note.
-- For all the shade that's been thrown his way, Ersan Ilyasova has been pretty decent the last week or so. Tonight was easily his best offensive performance of the year, and he's been battling defensively, even if it yields mixed results. Maybe some consistency in playing with the second unit has been good for him. That would be nice.
-- After collecting two fouls in the first 95 seconds of the first quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo sat the rest of the first half. That time on the pine must have served him well, because he came back and dropped all 13 of his points in the third quarter. He was again aggressive and crafty, most noticeably when he took three separate Knicks defenders on in isolation, and used a variety of moves to get two baskets and draw one foul on those possessions. The moves are still a little unpolished, but he continues to prove that he's a legitimate match-up nightmare.
-- Jabari Parker got off to another strong start with enjoyable moments, but again wasn't heard from much in the second half. All in all, he finished with a respectable 12 points on tidy 6-8 shooting with five rebounds in 24 minutes. Some may call his absence late in games a concern or just a point of curiosity, but Parker is not one of them. "I'm okay with that. Yeah, as long as we winning, I can't complain."
-- The absence of Larry Sanders was definitely felt on the defensive end tonight, but his lack of offense was probably not missed by many, either. Still, it's obvious that having him healthy is a plus for the Bucks, and the news that he'll be making the trip to Brooklyn and Toronto is a good sign. Fingers crossed that he'll be able to return to the lineup tomorrow.
-- For as good as Brandon Knight was in the first half, he was equally as frustrating in the second. It's a bummer when Knight struggles, because the team seems to mirror that. Going 3-10 with three turnovers in the second half is ugly, but Knight is improving in bits and pieces. Hell, if we're willing to be so patient with Jabari and Giannis, then maybe Brandon deserves some of that, too. Right? Maybe?
The Bucks will be in Brooklyn tomorrow night to face the Nets in part two of their New York back-to-back. It will be Jason Kidd's first game back at his old coaching stomping grounds, and the fans are ready to display how they feel about him.
It should a very interesting night.