Stop me if you've heard this before. The Milwaukee Bucks play two mostly solid quarters against a good team. The Milwaukee Bucks then allow a third quarter run to turn a competitive game into a complete laugher.
On Saturday it was the Indiana Pacers taking their turn to toy with the Bucks, following in the footsteps of fellow Eastern rivals Boston, Cleveland and Washington on their way to a 123-86 obliteration. Paul George needed only three quarters to pile up 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as Indiana ended the third on a 22-5 run to blow open a game the Pacers led by a manageable 68-62 midway through the period. The Pacers' bench unit then further destroyed the Bucks' reserves in the fourth 33-19, dealing the Bucks their worst loss of the season. C.J. Miles led the Pacers with 21 points on 16 shots in only 25 minutes, while Jordan Hill added 20 points inside and Glenn Robinson III (little dog!) scored 17 including 4/4 from deep off the bench.
Greg Monroe (11 pts, 14 rebs) and Jabari Parker (10 points on 8 shots) were the only Bucks to (barely) crack double digits, as Milwaukee was outscored 68-35 in the second half. Monroe was held scoreless and Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo each scored just two points after a solid first half, as 23 turnovers and an anemic shooting night from deep (5/17 threes) condemned the Bucks to their worst offensive night of the season (87.3 pts/100).
Unfortunately they were just as bad defensively, as Indiana blitzed the Bucks from deep to the tune of 15/30 shooting from three, the fourth straight game the Bucks have conceded at least 11 threes and the third straight game where opponents have shot at least 46% from distance.
Losing big in the second half has become an increasingly common theme for the Bucks, who actually looked quite lively for much of the first half. They were active on the glass (+9) and pushed the ball effectively in transition, two issues that have plagued them for much of the season. Other than their ongoing disinterest in the three point line, there was actually a lot to like about their mindset in the half, at least from an offensive standpoint. Of course, that also squares with what we've seen from the Bucks overall this season:
Bucks D has been bad all the time, but their offense goes from great to terrible in 2nd halves. pic.twitter.com/8iPY6kA83h— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) November 22, 2015
Clearly, things just aren't working for the Bucks, raising the question of what adjustments Jason Kidd and company can make to turn things around. They no longer have the excuse of injuries, and while a more prolonged period of continuity should help, that goes for every team. Indy was without starting point guard George Hill and lottery pick Myles Turner on Saturday, but that didn't slow them down. Instead, the Bucks allowed the Pacers to run wild in transition (21-10) and destroy them from behind the arc (+30), all while Milwaukee failed to keep their primary weapons involved with any consistency.
It's likely too early to be really panicking -- assuming you had realistic expectations -- but it's also becoming obvious that the Bucks are digging themselves a major hole in terms of playoff positioning. The Bucks are the only East playoff team that looks notably worse than a year ago, while five non-playoff teams -- the Pacers, Pistons, Heat, Knicks and Hornets -- all look demonstrably better than the Bucks over the first month of the season. And while the 5-8 Bucks aren't too far behind the 12 teams ahead of them in the Eastern playoff order, the reality is that they've been much worse than even their mediocre record suggests There's plenty of time to turn things around, but that may be more difficult than anyone would like.