After narrowly losing to the playoff-bound Warriors and Blazers on the road last week, the Bucks were completely overwhelmed by DeMarcus Cousins (32p/12 rebounds in 29 minutes), Isaiah Thomas (30 points and eight assists on 9/13 shooting), Rudy Gay (24 points on 9/16) and the 25-win Kings on Sunday, completely whiffing a 39-16 first quarter en route to a 124-107 defeat.
The Bucks effectively trailed the Kings by a quarter's worth of points throughout, trailing 70-44 at halftime and 104-70 after three quarters before a big garbage time effort narrowed the final margin to "just" 17. If all this seems familiar, it should be: despite losing 19 of their last 24 games, the Bucks have only been blown out a relatively modest four times in that span. Once each to the Celtics and Knicks...and twice to the Kings.
In truth this game was all about the Kings' Big Three, all of whom gave the Bucks troubles seemingly from the opening tip. Cousins was utterly unstoppable with 9/10 shooting and 21 points in the first half, and he was back at it terrorizing Zaza Pachulia and everyone else the Bucks could throw at him in the third. Cousins buried jumpers, stroked fadeaways, bulled the Bucks inside, threw home-run pass outlets and even led the break on a couple occasions, pumping up both the crowd and himself with equal effect. Meanwhile Thomas and Gay had their way with the Bucks in more subtle fashions, killing the Bucks from midrange and off the bounce with equal ease.
The Bucks' 25th starting lineup of the season featured Giannis Antetokounmpo (9 pts, 3/7 fg, 6 rebs, 2 ast) returning in place of the injured Nate Wolters, but Milwaukee's starters struggled to get anything going early on, and Larry Drew needed a Herculean effort from his bench to keep the final margin (vaguely) respectable. The Kings' help defenders harassed Brandon Knight into missing his first seven shots, and only Ersan Ilyasova (14 points on 4/7 fg, all in the first half) cracked double-digits among the starters.
On the plus side, O.J. Mayo--he's alive!--returned to the rotation for the first time in a couple weeks and responded with 21 points and four assists on 9/14 shooting, taking advantage of a disinterested Kings' second unit and leading the Bucks' reserves to a 37-20 blitz in the fourth quarter. The only other Bucks showing a consistent pulse were Jeff Adrien (13 points plus a nicely-timed blind elbow to Reggie Evans' chin in the first half) and D-League call-up Chris Wright (9 pts, 4/5 fg, 4 reb, 3 ast, 1 blk), whose motor seemed to be revving a couple thousand RPM higher than anyone in the starting unit.
The good news is that the Bucks get a chance to bounce right back tomorrow...against the 49-win Clippers. YEESH.
- Giannis' start was disappointing for the same reason many of his starts have been disappointing: missed shots and early fouls. It was encouraging to see the Bucks go to Giannis in the post against the much smaller Ben McLemore early on, and good position plus a quick pump fake gave Giannis a simple layup attempt for his first shot...which he missed. A nice cut and dish from Zaza earned him a pair of converted free throws, but two quick fouls later (one on a charge along the baseline) and he was back on the bench for the rest of the first quarter.
He came back with just under eight minutes left in the second, but missed an open three and a short banker after again using his size well going to his right. Sigh. The third started better when a leakout got him a layup off a nice feed from Knight, but a fourth foul again put him on the bench until midway through the final period. He buried an open straightaway three minutes later before capping off garbage time with a rebound and coast-to-coast layup in the dying seconds.
- Knight had scored 20+ points in three straight and seven of his last eight games, but saw his streak come crashing to a halt with just six points on 2/12 shooting. Five of his points came on a pair of aggressive drives in the final minute of the first half, but he never got his jumper going (0/4 on threes, all of them open looks) and the Kings' help defenders did a good job contesting his attempts inside. The only silver lining was a team-high seven assists, though he also had three turnovers in 23 minutes before sitting out the final quarter and a half.
- I have no idea how Ilyasova scored 14 points in the first half, but I do recall him hitting a pair of long twos (natch)...and then suddenly he had 14 points. #ANALYSIS
- Chris Wright played with the urgency of a guy on a ten-day contract, though it would have been nice if he wasn't the only one. Wright did as well as anyone guarding Gay one-on-one, and reminded us of his D-League all-defense credentials with a spectacular open-court spike of a Travis Outlaw attempted dunk in the second quarter. Offensively he was in attack mode at all times, throwing down a transition slam, splashing one long two-pointer and generally operating at a different speed than most of his teammates.
Obviously we haven't seen a ton of Wright over the past week, but based on a limited sample size he certainly looks like a guy who should be on an NBA roster somewhere. The Bucks have also been linked to former Memphis swingman/human pogo-stick D.J. Stephens in recent weeks, so there's a good chance Wright is shipped back down to the D-League this week and another springy 10-day guy is brought in to replace him. But he probably shouldn't take it personally. The Bucks seem to be making a point of looking at as many guys as possible over the last month of the season. Might as well, right? At worst they'll know a lot more about some guys they could take with them to Vegas, and at best they might find a guy who could be an end-of-the-bench minimum contract guy next season..
- John Henson was barely noticeable in the first half and finished with a modest seven points, four rebounds and (less modest) three blocks, doing most of his damage with the game out of reach in second half. Drew announced last week that Ilyasova would sit out back-to-backs in order to rest his perpetually sore ankle, so look for Henson to start and see extended minutes tomorrow night in L.A.
- Adrien and Khris Middleton both picked up flagrant fouls in the first half, Adrien for a careless elbow to Evans' face and Middleton for horse-collaring Gay on a Kings' transition attempt. The irony of Adrien's foul was that he seemed to be flailing his right elbow in the direction of Jason Thompson as he came down for a rebound, only to instead catch Evans with his other elbow. Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy, eh?