Just like opening night, the Bucks led the Hornets by 20+ points in Charlotte on Monday night. Just like opening night, the Bucks completely blew that lead in the second half. But not at all like opening night, this time around the Bucks exploded for 21 points in the overtime period, riding Giannis Antetokounmpo's versatility from the high post (16p/8r/4a/3b) to a hard-earned 104-94 road win. It was ugly, it was agonizing, but by the end it was still strangely fulfilling.
After riding their blitzing defense to a 49-32 halftime lead, the Bucks' second half saw them hit the skids in worryingly familiar fashion. The Hornets suddenly weren't turning it over every time the Bucks trapped, while Milwaukee's guards seemingly couldn't do anything right. Brandon Knight's four turnovers and a technical early in the third didn't help, while six quick points from a hobbled Al Jefferson -- he eventually went to the locker room for good -- set the tone for a more balanced, turnover-conscious Charlotte team.
Still, two big threes from O.J. Mayo (disclaimer: he was 1/11 otherwise) seemed to give the Bucks breathing room -- the first at the third quarter horn, the second early in the fourth to give Milwaukee a 77-66 lead. Except Charlotte had one more big run in them, this time a 15-4 spurt punctuated by a Marvin Williams three to tie the game at 81 with 3:04 left. Kemba Walker's driving layup with 54 seconds left then gave Charlotte their first lead since the opening quarter, and it looked like it might be curtains for the Bucks when Knight committed his eighth turnover just 11 seconds later.
But these are Jason Kidd's Bucks, which means weird and good things happen sometimes, too. With Charlotte having a chance to close it out, Khris Middleton got a piece of Walker's shot on the next possession, and Knight redeemed himself (sort of) shortly thereafter. Seeing a seam in the defense, Knight rose for an overly ambitious one-handed slam on Cody Zeller, who cleanly blocked the attempt...right back to Knight, who had the presence of mind to lay it back up and in to tie it with 15 seconds remaining. Hey, whatever works?
Thankfully, overtime offered new ideas from Kidd and far better results for the Bucks. After watching Knight, Mayo, Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall combine for 11/41 shooting and 15 turnovers in regulation, the Bucks repeatedly went to Giannis at the left elbow extended to start their sets. Sometimes it was an iso, sometimes it morphed into a pick-and-roll going right. Fittingly, it was the same look that they went to after falling behind 14-6 in the first quarter, and in overtime it delivered two buckets from Giannis (one a pull-up jumper!) and a kickout for a dagger three from Jared Dudley to make it 99-88 with 80 seconds remaining.
Not that Giannis did it alone in OT. John Henson capped a terrific two-way night with a monster slam (11p/4r/5b) and Knight added two more baskets to salvage a team-high 18 points, sending the Bucks back to .500 and avoiding a potential Hornets sweep of the season series.
- The first half might as well have been a clinic on the Bucks' trapping and rotating defense. After racing to an early 14-6 lead, Charlotte seemed overwhelmed by the Bucks' doubling tactics en route to a series of bad passes and missed jumpers, at one point missing 16 straight shots during an 18-0 Bucks run. In many respects the Hornets are the perfect kind of team for the Bucks' defense -- their best scorer is a post guy and they aren't a great three-point shooting, which practically invites the sort of swarming the Bucks like to do. But Charlotte also entered the game with the league's lowest turnover rate, which made their early sloppiness somewhat surprising.
- Antetokounmpo started quickly with seven points, three boards, three assists and two blocks in the first quarter, giving Bucks fans some early sunshine after a couple of less-than-great performances against the Hawks. Thereafter he floated a bit, and late in regulation I couldn't help but wonder if he was a bit content to let Knight and company force the issue. Thankfully, he looked like a different guy in OT, getting the ball on the left wing and confidently rising for a pull-up 17-footer to start the OT before later working for a short hook shot. Maybe we've found Giannis' spot?
- Henson and Pachulia filled in nicely for the ill Larry Sanders, as the Bucks' "other" centers combined for 10/13 shooting, 29 points, eight boards and six blocks. OK, the work on the boards could have been better, but Henson was particularly good on the defensive end, coping well with Jefferson on the block and protecting the rim admirably as a help defender. And he even made 3/3 from the stripe!
- Hat tip to Jim Paschke on this one: The Bucks scored more in the five-minute overtime than in either of the two previous 12-minute quarters. Basketball is strange.