The Milwaukee Bucks have suddenly become tough to beat on the road. Now if they could only remember how to win a game at home.
Fresh off their third straight double-digit road win, the Bucks returned home for what looked like a potential slugfest with the Pacers on Friday night...and they got one. Which is unfortunate, because slugfests don't make for enjoyable basketball -- especially when the Bucks are on the business end of a 94-91 home loss, their third straight setback at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Milwaukee had raced to a 53-46 at halftime, but the Pacers' suffocating defense held the Bucks to just 38 in the second half, including a drought of almost seven minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter. Despite a massive 17-0 advantage in transition and a 46-42 edge in the paint, the Bucks were too often stagnant in the halfcourt and hit just 7/24 from deep (29.2%), which along with a minus-8 deficit from the foul line spelled a third straight loss at the BC.
With both George Hill and C.J. Watson out, the Pacers got major contributions from C.J. Miles outside (22 points, 8/14 fg, 6/9 threes) and Roy Hibbert inside (18 pts, 6/11 fg, 7 rebs), with third-stringer Donald Sloan filling in adequately at the point (10 points, 8 boards, 6 ast).
Brandon Knight led the Bucks in scoring with 20 points (9/19 fg, 2/5 threes) and seven assists, but he was also the only Buck to attempt more than 10 shots...so, well, cue the usual round of Brandon Knight discussion. The two-headed monster of John Henson (14 pts, 10 rebs, 2 blk) and Zaza Pachulia (12 pts, 14 rebs) was perhaps more impressive, though that was about it for the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo never got on track offensively (2/8 fg, 6 pts, 4 rebs, 4 blk), which didn't exactly help the fun factor either.
- In case you missed it: Jason Kidd revealed before the game that Larry Sanders' continued absence is now being termed as due to "personal reasons," with no timetable for his return. Commence wild speculation as to what that means...
- Chalk this up as a "the refs let 'em play" type of game. Nothing super physical, but there weren't any ticky-tack fouls to be had in the first half as the teams combined for just eight free throws in the first two quarters. Of the Pacers' 16 free throws, seven came in the final minute as the Bucks were forced to chase and foul.
- For better or worse, Giannis took three early jump shots, sinking a corner 20-footer after a pump fake and one dribble to his left. But he struggled to get any touches near the basket, and the Bucks seemed oddly disinterested in running any of the high post actions that worked so well against the Hornets and Cavs. Only in the last few minutes did we see the Giannis/Zaza P&R action, and Giannis forced a couple of late shots in the process. On the plus side? He's now got six straight games with at least two blocks (16, 2.67 bpg).
- Back in the summer we wondered if college buddies Henson and Kendall Marshall could rekindle some of their UNC magic in Milwaukee, and tonight we saw our first extended glimpse of it. All four of Marshall's assists came on Henson finishes, two of them dunks. Hooray, friendship!
- Good crowd at the BC tonight (16,238), but the game seemed to plod along without giving fans a ton to get excited about (especially that whole losing part). All of which highlights the one downside of the Bucks' success in the standings -- while no one can complain about their overall record, they've been something of a letdown at home of late. Not exactly a good thing for a team trying to reassert its relevance.
- Next chance at redemption: Sunday at MSG vs. the Knicks followed by a tricky home game vs. the Suns on Tuesday.