Having survived a difficult trip out West over the past week, the Milwaukee Bucks just couldn't get over the hump at home.
The Bucks fell back below .500 tonight, putting together a mostly uninspiring performance against the Charlotte Hornets in a 108-101 loss at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Hornets had come into Milwaukee winners of three straight games, but it's not like we're talking about the '96 Bulls here -- despite their improved play of late, they entered the night just 9-19. But the Bucks struggled to contain Charlotte's backcourt combo of Kemba Walker (27p/4a) and Gerald Henderson (20p/4a), and the Hornets outscored the Bucks 54-45 in the second half despite cooling off considerably after a hot start from the field.
Charlotte was ultimately able to win the game on the defensive end, as Steve Clifford's club forced Milwaukee into 20 turnovers by sealing off the paint and pressuring the ball feverishly. And even aside from giveaways, Milwaukee's offense just didn't seem to have the same fluidity as it's shown over the past few weeks. Outside of Brandon Knight (34p/5a on 13/21 shooting), only three other players were able to scratch double digit scoring. For a team that looks its best on offense when the ball and players are not sticking (note: this applies for every team, but you get the point), tonight was a disjointed disappointment.
Though nothing was really clicking on either end of the floor, the Bucks were within striking distance of the Hornets for most of the game before Charlotte extended their lead to 94-82 early in the fourth. The Bucks rallied to within four in the final two minutes, but could never get the game within a single possession as Charlotte ultimately salted it away from the free throw line. Unfortunately, almost every time the Bucks needed a big bucket or stop, they just came up empty. Shots wouldn't fall, rebounds couldn't be gathered, et cetera, et cetera.
Even if you've been playing well, some nights you just don't have it. Tonight seemed like one of those nights for the young Bucks, though the team apparently wasn't content to just write it off. The players met on their own for nearly 50 minutes after the game, not the sort of thing you expect from an overachieving team that's avoided any sniff of chemistry questions so far. Afterward, players suggested it was mostly a discussion of effort and energy -- check out video reaction from the locker room here.
-- Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with a decent 11p/6r line, but only managed to take four shots the entire game. Some of that likely will be placed on the ineffectiveness of the distributors in the Bucks backcourt, but the Hornets had a solid game plan for Giannis, and it was especially evident in the second half. When Giannis would break towards the hoop, the Hornets would send an extra defender to the strong side to help seal off the paint. With so many bodies in a crowded area, Giannis wasn't able to get his usual head of steam or stretch out for easy layups. Should his shot total be higher? Probably, but it likely wouldn't have made a huge difference.
-- Brandon Knight was the only player to register double digit shot attempts (21). I'm not sure if that's frustrating or necessary given how the Bucks' offense looked tonight, but there were certainly long stretches in the first half where it seemed as though Knight and O.J. Mayo were the only ones getting up any shots.
-- Ersan Ilyasova contributed 4p/4r in 16 minutes in his first action since December 2nd, but also showed his rustiness. Ilyasova missed six of eight shots, including a wide open dunk attempt off a nice feed from Knight that he blasted off the back iron. Kidd said before the game that he has looked really good in practice but was likely out of game shape, so it's likely (hopeful?) that Ersan will return back to a reliable form soon. Tonight though...he was a bit off. He didn't look hesitant with his shot, but his legs were not up to speed, as most of his shots would come up short. I wouldn't worry, though. Coming back from that much time off isn't easy.
-- The Bucks will be off through the holidays, but will return to action for a home-and-home series with the streaking Atlanta Hawks, who are 21-7 and riding a five-game winning streak.
Speaking of the holidays, we at Brew Hoop hope you have a safe and enjoyable one. See you on the other side.