The Milwaukee Bucks are dead last in opponent three-point percentage. The Washington Wizards are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA and feature one of the NBA's hottest shooters. The story of this game wasn't hard to predict, though it proved a bit more exciting than expected.
Trevor Ariza continued his scorching streak from behind the arc, sinking five of his seven three-point attempts en route to 28 points to lead the Wizards past the Bucks, 114-107. Bradley Beal hit five threes of his own for 23 points. All together the Wizards were 15-28 from deep, nearly shooting a better percentage on three-pointers than on one-pointers (13-23 FTs). John Wall had 13 assists to salvage a rough night shooting (4-14 FGs) and controlling the ball (7 TOs).
Brandon Knight led the Bucks with 25 points on 9-20 shooting, one of six Bucks to score in double figures. Khris Middleton was Milwaukee's second-leading scorer with 15 on 7-12 shooting, while John Henson added a tidy 12 points on 6-8 shooting.
There isn't a ton of defense being played in Bucks games lately, and the Wizards turned the first half into a near-comical shooting display. Trevor Ariza set the tone, opening the game with a pair of threes, and Washington continued to burn the lethargic Bucks will rapid ball movement through the first 24 minutes. After the first quarter, Ariza was on pace for 68 points. After the second, Washington had racked up an offensive rating of 166.7. At one point the Bucks trailed by 28 points. They faced a 22-point hole at the break.
Truthfully, the deficit could have been worse. Milwaukee's offense wasn't burning down the building, but a 117.8 ORtg is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the Wizards came in as a top-10 defensive team. The Bucks shot the ball well and got to the line quite a bit, and they took good care of the ball. But with the opening half playing out as it did, every little mistake was just another chance for the Wizards to stretch the lead. Every miss was followed by a make. Every two was followed by three on the other end.
The third quarter could hardly have been more different, then. After giving up 5/3 of a point per possession in the first half (Bucks making me use improper fractions up in here), Milwaukee held the Wizards without a point for the first 7 minutes of the third quarter. Part of that was just a failure to make the same shots that were falling in the first, which was everything, but Milwaukee did it's part too. The Bucks showed a lot more energy and hustle on that end, switching to zone while somehow managing to increase the pressure on the perimeter.
The Bucks might have been able to cut things even closer, but familiar mistakes knocked their own offensive train off the tracks a bit. After scoring a crisp 1.09 points per possession in the first half, Milwaukee dropped to .91 in the third quarter. An Ariza bucket with just under five minutes left was Washington's first of the quarter, but the Bucks only finished the third with 3 more makes than the Wizards. It wasn't just a shooting slump. Milwaukee committed at least two unforced turnovers on the perimeter as passes sailed out of bounds.
Then the fourth quarter started and the defense disappeared again. The Bucks earned six free-throw attempts in the first 3+ minutes of the final period, and John Henson added 3 close-range baskets of his own. When Ramon Sessions swiped a pass by Wall and took it for a dunk on the other end, Washington called time up by just four points. But Wall assisted on the Wizards' next two buckets, an Ariza three and a Marcin Gortat dunk, and then Bradley Beal took over. He scored Washington's next nine points, including a big-time three pointer after a questionable long-range attempt from Sessions. That put the Wiz up by eight with 1:23 remaining, and the lead jumped to 11 after a turnover by Zaza Pachulia led to a John Wall three.
With the Utah Jazz beating the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night, the Bucks remain 3.0 games ahead of the Sixers in the lottery standings. The Bucks take on the Magic at home on Monday at home before playing seven of their next 8 games on the road.
A few more observations:
- There's really no explaining Larry Drew's continued devotion to Zaza Pachulia, particularly on offense. It was pretty frustrating watching the Wizards create shot after open shot on the perimeter with crisp passing and deliberate off-the-dribble attacks, only to see the Bucks set a simple ball screen and dump the ball into Zaza on the other end. Yes, Pachulia is an excellent passer from the center position, but there's very little he can do with minimal, simple action going on around him. And when things stagnate, he tries to take guys off the bounce, and it never ends well.
- 22 mostly inconsequential minutes for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with four points on 1-4 shooting and two turnovers. We were unfortunately denied any great highlights for one game, as Giannis failed to record a single steal, block, or dunk.
- Ersan Ilyasova didn't have such a bad little game, with 13 points and 8 rebounds, and he looked good under the basket when he didn't have the ball (he killed a fast break early in the game and missed another point-blank shot in the second half). He looked like Classic Ersan fighting for boards under the basket, getting up and down quickly and keeping contested rebounds alive. He tied with Jeff Adrien for the game high in rebounds with 8.
- John Henson's hook shot looked as good as ever, even if it wasn't a fantastic game for him overall. He looked really good in his short scoring burst, creating open looks with an effective shot fake and some good footwork in the post. The trouble was just trying to hang onto the ball--he coughed it up four times, mostly when the Wizards stole it directly from him.
- Drew Gooden had 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and hit a corner three for the Wizards. The Bucks continue to pay him money on a fixed schedule.