A year after finding inventive new ways to lose, the Milwaukee Bucks are suddenly finding ways to win -- and somewhat comfortably at that. As they did on Tuesday night at home against the Pistons, the Bucks played a tight game for three-plus quarters in Minnesota on Wednesday night, watching the depleted Timberwolves stay in the game thanks to a huge advantage at the foul line. But once again the Bucks looked like a veteran team in the fourth quarter, locking down the young Wolves defensively and riding Brandon Knight at the foul line to claim a 31-16 advantage in the final stanza and a 103-86 margin overall.
While much of the pregame hype was understandably on the "matchup" between top picks Andrew Wiggins (14 pts, 4/14 fg, 8 rebs, 4 ast, 6 turnovers) and Jabari Parker (11 pts, 5/12 fg, 7 rebs, 3 ast, 0 turnovers), the key for Milwaukee was once again balance. Seven Bucks scored between 10 and 15 points, with Larry Sanders doing damage in the paint on both ends (15 pts, 7/10 fg,7 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Brandon Knight (3/11 fg, 8/8 ft) scoring 13 of his 15 in the final period to clinch it.
No shot was bigger than Knight's difficult off-the-dribble three to make it 87-83, one of those "No-no-no-no-no-no-YES!" type shots that you hate, but...well, yeah. That shot sparked a 19-3 run to end the game, with the Bucks repeatedly running a simple high P&R with Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo that four times led to Knight getting fouled and hitting both free throws.
Both teams used ball pressure (12 Bucks steals, 11 for Minny) to push the tempo, with the Wolves ultimately claiming a 20-17 edge in transition. After struggling through a 1/13 shooting night on Tuesday, Antetokounmpo did his human tornado thing early and often, setting up dunks for Sanders and Parker in the first quarter and finishing with the kind of box score-stuffing stat line that we've now come to expect: 13 points (6/12), eight boards, and four assists in 26 minutes.
Next up for the Bucks: A chance to claim their second three-game winning streak of the season on Friday in Detroit, followed by a stiffer challenge against the Rockets at home on Saturday. In other words, the Bucks will be no worse than 9-9 heading into a brutal December schedule, and they could be an insane 11-7 by the time the weekend is over. Whatever happens, there's plenty to be thankful for in Milwaukee right now.
The matchup. I'm not sure I can recall Wiggins and Parker matching up one-on-one for more than a moment here or there, with Wiggins instead doing much of his work against O.J. Mayo and Parker working largely against Thad Young. Wiggins' size gave Mayo troubles in the post, with Mayo drawing a technical in the third for arguing a foul call. Meanwhile, Jabari mostly just played in the flow of the Bucks' offense, moving off the ball for three dunks, a fast break alley-oop layup from Knight, and a mid-range jumper in the first half. The only meaningful interaction between the two came on an emphatic Wiggins' help block on Parker, one of two plays in which Parker made aggressive moves to the basket only to see a help defender come over for the block. However, he still fared much better than Young, who returned from a five-game absence to go just 1/10 from the field.
Inside. While both teams had their share of second chances, the Bucks ultimately won the battle of the boards 43-38 in large part due to Minnesota's wayward shooting (38%), while Sanders' work on both ends assured a 54-38 edge in the paint. Terrific game from Sanders, whose previous season-high of 12 points came on Tuesday.