The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 111-106 tonight to get back to .500. They have already reached 80% of their win total from last season (in just 24 games, mind you), and victories over really good teams like tonight's are delightful reminders of what awaits for these guys.
The Clippers got out to a hot start in the first behind some early sharpshooting from J.J Redick (25p/5r). The Bucks were a little sloppy, and the Clips began to build a comfortable lead.
Once the shots stopped falling though, the Bucks got out and ran. Once they started running, they started dunking. They dunked their way to just a two point deficit at the end of the first quarter and continued dunking--in addition to holding the Clippers to jut 14 second quarter points--until they found themselves up nine at the half.
Allegedly, points were scored in more conventional ways, but the dunking stood out for two reasons. First, dunks are very fun. Second--and more importantly--the Clippers figured to have a giant advantage inside with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan roaming around. Oddly enough, neither had much of an impact inside (10p/6r/9a and 7p/15r, respectively), with the Bucks using a steady diet of double teams to limit Griffin's ability to hurt them inside. The Clippers do rank 28th in paint points and last in attempts at the rim, but you figured either one of them would be a little more of a problem for the Bucks.
Speaking of problems, the BMO Harris Bradley Center had their villain tonight in Matt Barnes, who finished with 26 points on the night. His scoring was enough of a problem, but Barnes also added fuel to the fire by coming down hard (legally!) on a fast break layup attempt from Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first half. Though the game had been a little chippy before then, that moment ignited both team's benches, players, and the crowd for the rest of the game. Giannis was T'ed up for lashing out after the foul, while Barnes earned a technical minutes later for staring Giannis down after a terrific driving slam.
The Bucks appeared as if they were going to be subject to another second half meltdown, as the same story lines started to rear their ugly heads early in the third quarter. The Clippers were forcing the Bucks into bad shots and turnovers, they were making their shots, and Milwaukee was unable to find any solutions within their offense, regardless of who was (or wasn't) on the court.
In the fourth quarter though, Milwaukee came out scorching, drilling 11 of their first 15 shots and knocking down their free throws (18-24) late to keep the lead comfortable enough for the win. Kendall Marshall (5p/6a) and Larry Sanders (15p/9r/2b) were crucial to Milwaukee reclaiming the lead early in the fourth, and they had enough in reserve down the stretch to claim their 12th win of the season.
-- The Bucks' three minutes leaders were the three young guys. Giannis Antetokounmpo (20p/5r, 8-11 shooting, 31 minutes) and Brandon Knight (22p/5a, 30 minutes) led the way for most of the night, while Jabari Parker (12p/5r, 6-11 shooting, 35 minutes) had strong contributions in the first half. Giannis was particularly impressive, showing less hesitation around in his attacks from the perimeter, but also showing more restraint when the window wasn't open. It's quite clear that his confidence is at an all-time high, and Giannis attributed that after the game to his teammates and coaching staff believing in him and trusting that he'll make the right play.
-- The Bucks were going need solid performances from some of their role players if they wanted a win tonight. They got three productive outings from Larry Sanders (15p/9r/2b), Khris Middleton (14p/6r), and Jerryd Bayless (11p/7a). Sanders kept the Clippers away from the rim AND finishing around the rim offensively, while Middleton and Bayless were able to knock down shots or keep the ball moving when it was needed. Their contributions weren't as flashy and were considerably less dunky, but they kept the Bucks out of any serious trouble, so hats off to them.
-- The Bucks shot 56.6 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three. Generally speaking, good things will happen if the team puts up numbers like that.
-- This was arguably the best crowd I've witnessed at the BMOHBC in at least a year. So hats off to them as well. (P.S: buy some tickets already!)
-- This win snaps a five-game losing streak to the Clippers, which had dated back to 2/14/11. Nobody on the Bucks' roster tonight appeared in that game.
-- The Bucks have scored 100 or more points in nine straight games-- their longest such streak since 1991. THAT'S 23 YEARS.
-- Jabari Parker has shot 60.6 percent from the field in December. That ranks fourth among all NBA players (with a minimum of 50 attempts). He has shot better than 50 percent in all December games.
The Bucks now head West for the next week, as they face off against the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, and these same Clippers. It will be an extremely tough test, but it's getting hard to say that you won't enjoy watching this team try to take down giants.