The night started off as well as could be expected. The building was buzzing. The players were excited. Bango had a big smoke gun thing. When the game tipped off, the Bucks raced out to an early lead and looked ready to roll behind two key starters.
It didn't last.
With Jabari Parker sitting on the bench and Giannis Antetokounmpo sitting at home, a crowded BMO Harris Bradley Center unfortunately sat through a pretty disastrous home opener. The dreadful New York Knicks, one of the NBA's worst teams last year, obliterated the Milwaukee Bucks 122-97 to open the 2015/2016 NBA season.
Let's start with the good news: Greg Monroe looked like the real deal: 22 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 block, and 2 steals is one heck of a way to kick off you career with a new team. While his defensive rotations still leave plenty to be desired, Monroe largely carried the Bucks to whatever fringes of respectability they reached tonight, showing off a skill level that hasn't been seen in a Bucks center for quite some time.
Most of Milwaukee's early offense ran through Michael Carter-Williams, and viewers were treated to the full range of possible outcomes. Working on the ball, MCW worked his way into the paint for a few short jumpers and running layups, with decidedly mixed results. Thankfully, nearly everywhere MCW went, Greg Monroe was sure to follow, and the two paired together wonderfully on a few plays, most notably a big dunk for Carter-Williams off a high-post feed from Monroe. Moose had a major hand in building the Bucks' early lead, pulling down a handful of offensive rebounds in the opening minutes to set up a Chris Copeland three and a few baskets of his own.
Carter-Williams used garbage time to finish with a respectable-at-first-blush 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, but he also committed 6 turnovers, mostly of the killer live-ball variety that led directly to Knicks baskets. Khris Middleton misfired his way to 11 points on 4-15 shooting, while Greivis Vasquez turned in a solid 15/7/5 line.
It was a mildly strange start for MCW, who was obviously working his butt off early in the game but couldn't get many shots to fall. Now, Carter-Williams missing shots isn't exactly strange in itself, but Milwaukee did get some good looks with him at the helm. In any case, things really seemed to go to pieces once he hit the bench. Over the next three-plus minutes, the Knicks ran off a 13-0 run to take a 34-23 lead early in the second quarter. The Bucks employed some strange lineups in that stretch, at one point pairing Johnny O'Bryant and John Henson in the frontcourt for a few ill-fated minutes.
The offense slogged through extended stretches, but Milwaukee's defense wasn't performing anywhere near the caliber we saw last season either. The Knicks slashed through units that clearly weren't up to speed on the aggressive, trapping, turnover-baiting defense Gus Johnson extolled in the opening minutes [Edit: he pretty much just read our season preview on air, right? - Frank]. Missing Giannis Antetokounmpo's length and quickness probably hurt, but the Bucks put got great results last year with a host of players not known for lightning-fast reflexes. Granted, a good chunk of New York's success was derived from the Bucks' turnover troubles, particularly in the second quarter. Ultimately though, this was a team simply caught off-guard in the first half.
And nobody pantsed them more than Derrick Williams, who tallied 15 of his game-high 24 points in the first half. Williams worked his way into positional mismatches against a sporadically-deployed zone defense by Milwaukee, posting up Carter-Williams on one play and driving around O'Bryant on another. It wasn't just Williams--too often Milwaukee lost the one-on-one defensive matchups, resulting in either a shot near the basket for the Knicks or at the very least an offensive rebounding opportunity. Williams and Kyle O'Quinn combined for eight of New York's 14 offensive boards in the first half.
The big problem, as it turned out, was that New York blitzed the Bucks in the first half largely without the benefit of the three-point shot--they hit just one in the first 24 minutes. That changed in the third quarter, where the Knicks sank six shots from deep, including three in a row by Langston Galloway off the bench. The Knicks took advantage of some lazy play from Milwaukee in the second half, including a killer stretch where MCW racked up a good portion of his turnovers in short order, and by the time the Bucks seemed to snap out of the haze the gap was simply too large to overcome.
New York earned the easy victory despite getting little from Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 11 points on 4-16 shooting. The Bucks kept a close eye on Anthony throughout the game, rarely giving up any easy shots for the Knicks' star. Both Damien Inglis and Chris Copeland in particular played some solid on-ball defense when matched up with Anthony. Unfortunately, Melo's teammates were willing and able to pick up the slack, perhaps aided by the undue attention paid to the former. Rookie Kristaps Porzingis tallied 16 points, sinking 9 of 12 free throws to offset 3 of 11 shooting from the field. All told, seven different Knicks players scored in double figures.
The Bucks won't have to wait long for redemption in front of their home crowd, as they look to atone for tonight's poor effort on Friday against the Wizards.