"EVERYTHING IS BROKEN AND TERRIBLE!"
That's basically how Bucks Nation was feeling in the second half of Friday night's Bucks-Magic game in Orlando, and honestly...well, who can blame them? After a competitive first half, the Jason Kidd-less Bucks once again went into full circle the drain mode in the third quarter, allowing Orlando to bomb away from three point range to take a commanding 86-65 lead into the fourth quarter. The end result was the Bucks' league-worst defense living up to its ranking yet again, as Orlando shot 52% from the field and 44% from three in a decidedly lopsided 114-90 win.
Despite entering the game shooting 35% from the field, Magic point guard Elfrid Payton hit 10/12 shots from the field and led the way with 22 points and 10 assists, as the Bucks were schooled by a non-shooting point guard for the second straight game. Former Buck/eternal Buck slayer Tobias Harris hit 4/5 threes en route to 19 points while Evan Fournier added 17 points on 12 shots for the Magic.
The only bright spots for Milwaukee were rather familiar ones: Giannis Antetokounmpo managed 17 points (on just 10 shots, sigh), to go with four assists and two steals, while Jerryd Bayless stayed hot with a sustainability-defying 17 points on 5/10 shooting from three. Khris Middleton also continued his improved play with 15 points (4/7 shooting, 3/5 from deep), four assists and three steals, while Jabari Parker had a couple more highlight reel dunks but generally couldn't stay involved consistently (8 points on 4/9 shooting, 3 rebs in 22 min).
As per usual, the Bucks looked fine in the early going, driving and dishing to reasonably good effect as even Michael Carter-Williams hit his first shot in the paint. Jabari and Giannis were both attacking the rim, with Antetokounmpo's 8 first quarter points providing reason for early optimism. The Bucks (read: Parker) lost track of Harris a couple times in the opening minutes, but neither team was able to really get things going in a first quarter that ended in a 22-22 deadlock.
However, thing started to unravel late in the second as a 7-0 Magic run helped them take a 49-43 edge into halftime. Carter-Williams botched a two-for-one opportunity by falling and turning the ball over, then Antetokounmpo committed a silly foul when Payton was already past him for an and-one.
Things then went from bad to worse in the third, as Payton hit an early three and Harris and Frye each added two more triples in short order. Sometimes the Bucks were disorganized after offensive rebounds, sometimes they rotated poorly, and sometimes they played reasonable defense and the Magic just hit shots anyway (read: anything Payton shot outside of 5 feet). When it rains, it pours, you know? In that respect it was an eerily similar performance to the egg Milwaukee laid in Indiana last Saturday: good offense and bad defense begin to blur, and in many ways the bad defense only further emboldened the opponent's offense to play well. It was another particularly brutal night for MCW, who turned it over three times in the third quarter (five for the game) and managed just three assists and three points in 24 minutes.
And that leads us to the scary part: the Bucks' second half defense and body language has looked as terrible as ever over the past two games, suggesting that their problems go way beyond the usual excuses we've heard over the first month. Yes, they're young. Yes, they've had injuries. But neither the players nor coaches seem to have any idea how to fix what's going wrong defensively; forget being elite, they don't even know how to be not terrible right now.
The Bucks next chance to salvage their defensive dignity: a Sunday matinee in Charlotte, followed by a return home Monday night against the Nuggets.