It didn't come easy, but the defending champions ultimately came away 101-95 winners on Sunday night, bullying the Bucks in the paint (52-34 scoring edge) and riding big nights from Tim Duncan (20 pts/11 rebs) and Kawhi Leonard (19 pts/14 rebs) to earn their fifth straight win over the Bucks. Khris Middleton led Milwaukee with 21 points (9/14 fg, 3/5 threes, 5 rebs, 3 stl), while Jerryd Bayless (15 points, 5/10 fg, 5 ast) kept the Bucks in it during an otherwise stagnant fourth quarter. Despite Brandon Knight struggling through an off night (4/15 fg, 10 pts, 5 rebs, 5 ast, 5 to), the Bucks outshot the Spurs from the field (47% to 42%), were more effective from deep (8/17 vs. 5/22) and outrebounded them by one, but San Antonio made a living at the line (+17) and the Bucks couldn't make enough plays (or get any calls) down the stretch.
The Spurs led 12-6 early before a shot of energy saw the Bucks rip off a 16-0 run midway through the first. Milwaukee's pressuring defense kept the Spurs off balance offensively and enabled the Bucks to reel off 13 transition points in the first half alone, though the Spurs stabilized behind the steadiness of (who else?) Duncan (14 points in the half). Still, the Bucks continued to counterpunch and led 55-47 at the half behind 12 from Middleton.
San Antonio then turned the tide midway through the third, amping up the ball pressure defensively while cleaning up their execution offensively. The result was a 22-12 margin in the third, with Boris Diaw's inside savvy (14 pts on 7/11 shooting) central to much of what went right for the Spurs. Leading by two heading into the final stanza, the Spurs led the entirety of the fourth but had a few nervous moments down the stretch, namely when Bayless had a chance to tie it with 20 seconds left but shortarmed a rushed floater early in the shot clock.
- In the all-important young Bucks department, Giannis Antetokounmpo was fairly peripheral to the Bucks' halfcourt offense (2/5 fg, 4 pts) but added seven boards, five assists and two steals in 33 minutes. Still, it was a bit of a frustrating night for Giannis, who committed a handful of fouls in the fourth and missed a late transition dunk attempt when he was clearly fouled by Boris Diaw -- but somehow didn't get a call.
He touched the ball a fair bit and initiated the offense at times, but looked tentative for much of the night and missed his only two shot attempts of the second half. These are the kinds of nights where you'd really like to see him get some post touches, but unfortunately there have been a number of nights lately where he's neither aggressively looking to get the ball nor getting many plays run for him.
- John Henson (4 pts, 9 rebs, 1 blk in 17 in) turned his left ankle in the second half -- the same foot that sidelined him for much of December in the second half -- and didn't return in the fourth quarter, though he was able to walk around on it on the sideline. Stay tuned.
- Bayless' streak of 58 straight free throws ended in the waning seconds, as he missed not one but two free throws. They wouldn't have mattered either way, but it was a tough final minute for Bayless, who kept the Bucks in it with 10 fourth quarter points before missing late.
- Though the offense bogged down at times under the Spurs' ball pressure in the second half, Milwaukee racked up 29 assists on their 39 field goals. O.J. Mayo quietly led the way with seven, while Knight, Bayless and Giannis each added five.
- It felt like the Spurs had far more second chance opportunities, though the box score suggests otherwise.
- The loss drops the Bucks back to .500 at 22-22, with their next game on Tuesday night in Miami against the Heat. Milwaukee has already beaten the Heat twice this year, which happens to be the difference between the Bucks and Heat (20-24) in the standings as well.