Not bad, but not good enough.
That's seemingly been the Bucks' M.O. for the past few weeks, and Friday's 112-104 loss in New Orleans reiterated some recurring themes. The offense is better, the defense is entirely optional (see the Pellies' 50% shooting and 31 assists), and in the end the losses keep piling up. It's possibly also the best case scenario for many reasons--but as a refined 21st century basketball fan you already knew that.
As for tonight? Well...Anthony Davis ladies and gentlemen. Three weeks after foul trouble limited Davis' impact in Milwaukee, the second-year superstar was trouble for the Bucks early and late, including seven straight points to key a 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter that put the Pelicans ahead for good. Davis was appropriately the star of the evening with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists in 40 minutes, but he also had plenty of help in the form of Tyreke Evans (25 points on 13 shots, 7 assists) and some big fourth quarter shots from Anthony Morrow (16 points in 16 minutes, including 10 in the fourth).
The Bucks weren't quite as crisp offensively, missing 15 of 20 threes including 0/8 in the first half, but a relentless and hyper-efficient Jeff Adrien (20 pts, 5/8 fg, 10/11 ft, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) and a sharp-shooting Khris Middleton (25 points on 17 shots) were enough to keep the Bucks reasonably close until the death. Starting in place of the suspended Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson also did his part with 12 points (6/9), 6 rebounds and a pair of blocks in 22 minutes, overcoming some early foul trouble and doing a solid job against Davis whenever they were matched up.
Henson started brightly with a hook shot on the Bucks' second possession, but a few minutes later he was in a more familiar position: on the bench. A pair of quick fouls against Davis short-circuited Henson's first start of the month, as the Bucks unsurprisingly struggled to cope with Davis' athleticism in the early going. Davis had 10 of New Orleans' first 19 points and had 16 by halftime, but the Bucks hung around despite 38% shooting and an 0/8 performance from deep thanks to another energetic half from Adrien (14 points, 3 blocks) and Ramon Sessions (16 points on 10 shots).
The Bucks finally found their range in the third, with Brandon Knight and Middleton each splashing a pair of threes and Henson starting to get the better of Davis on the block. Alas, the latter bit didn't last long. Davis got loose for a pair of buckets against Henson to close the third, and then really went to work against Zaza Pachulia and Adrien early in the fourth. Davis scored seven straight points to key a 10-2 Pelicans run that turned a 79-78 deficit into an 88-81 lead, and the Bucks never got closer than five the rest of the way.
- What's left to say about Adrien? Two days after scoring a career-best 15 points against the Kings, Adrien had another career-night with his first career 20/10 game. Though his lack of length hurt him at times against Davis, his energy and toughness on both ends have been a huge part of the Bucks' improved play since the trade deadline.
- O.J. Mayo earned a flagrant-two ejection and an early shower for an angry forearm shove (not quite a punch) on Greg Stiemsma late in the first. Mayo reacted angrily after Stiemsma caught him with a moving screen, though in all honesty it didn't appear Stiemsma caught him too badly.
- Tough day at the office for Knight, who had his hands full trying to defend the Pelicans' guards while mostly struggling through some ill-advised shot selection on his way to a 5/17 shooting night (15 pts, 5 assists). All five of his assists (and no turnovers) came in the first half, but he didn't manage any in the second half.
- It was a similarly forgettable night for Giannis Antetokounmpo (1/5 fg, 2 pts, 4 rebs, 3 ast), who scored his only basket on a transition finish from Knight and otherwise contributed little other than a couple nice P&R passes. Speaking of which: I'm starting to like the left-wing (going right) P&R they've had him running with Adrien. It got Adrien a layup tonight and Giannis should have finished a short floater that also came from the same play. Not the first time we've seen Giannis and Adrien get good looks out of that play over the past couple weeks.
- With Ilyasova suspended and Ekpe Udoh still out with a knee injury, Miroslav Raduljica found some early burn but struggled through an 0/5 effort in 8 minutes. His only memorable moment came when Davis threw down a two-hander in his grill in the first quarter, one of a pair of nice P&R actions Davis ran with Eric Gordon.