The Bucks snapped their two-game losing streak and pulled within a half game of the fifth seed in the East playoff race with a comfortable 104-88 win at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. It would be easy to stop here and just dismiss the win as "well, it is the Sixers," but that would be unfair.
The 22 turnovers aside, the Bucks played a pretty fluid game. The beatdown got rolling early highlighted by Michael Carter-Williams' strong, dunk-filled start. The benefit of adding the newly acquired point guard was immediately obvious, as guys were active off the ball, knowing that they'd get the ball in their spots on time for open shots. MCW tallied 6p/2a/2s in his first seven minutes of action en route to a 7p/8a finish in 17 total minutes.
When Jerryd Bayless came in off the bench, the offensive machine kept on churning away. Every Buck that saw action scored tonight, and only one player (Giannis) didn't have more than three made buckets. That unselfish offense hummed along through the whole game and the Bucks finished shooting nearly 54 percent from the field while assisting on 72 percent of their field goals (32/44).
Jason Richardson led the way for Philly with 16 points, but the Sixers offense was generally a mess all night, turning the ball over 28 times--19 in the first half. That was the most turnovers the Bucks had forced in a half in over 10 years. Part of that can be attributed to Philly's hyper-aggressive but equally undisciplined offensive attack, but Milwaukee did a good job at sticking their cartoonish wingspans in passing and driving lanes, making even simple offense difficult for the Sixers. Philly shot 41 percent on the night.
Milwaukee messed around with being up as many as 30 for a stretch in the middle of the game, but took their foot off the gas a bit in the fourth quarter, opting for rest until Philly whittled the sizable lead down to within pseudo-striking distance. Kidd looked to a few of his starters to close the game out, and they delivered. Returning to a bench role, John Henson had a season- and team-high 21p/9r and Khris Middleton was right behind him with 19p/5r/3a. Win number 32 is in the books, and I think we can all take a deep breath and relax again.
-- So how did MCW look in his debut? Comfortable. The fast start was obviously enjoyable and set a lot anxieties aside, but throughout the rest of the game MCW looked composed and confident. He bricked his only two jumpers (whatever), but did a good job of conducting the offense and setting guys up for good opportunities. It was about as good as you could hope for tonight, with his minutes presumably set for a bump Friday when the Bucks take on the Lakers in L.A.
-- THE BUCKS ARE A HALF GAME BACK OF THE 5TH SEED. HOOOOOOOOOOOOOW?!?!
-- Giannis struggled for much of the night offensively, but still managed to finish with 5p/11r/6a/3s. Offensively, it was clear that him and MCW weren't quite clicking yet, though Giannis was generally struggling to do anything as a scorer -- he had a pair of offensive fouls on his way to five turnovers, completely whiffed a wide open layup in transition and had a couple of other chippies rim out. In other words, it was one of those nights offensively for Giannis, but that's likely not going to be a huge concern going forward. Side note: It still amazes me how you can watch him play poorly, but still check the box score and see that he filled it up.
-- I know they call him "Money" or "Khash," but can Khris Middleton borrow the nickname "Butter" until Kendall Marshall returns? That dude is so smooth sometimes. Sheesh. Also, there was one possession in the first half where Middleton got spun around on a switch. Instead of turning and reacting towards his man, Khris just kind of...backpedaled with his arms up towards the corner and ended up successfully contesting the three. That was pretty cool.
-- I'm not John Henson's biggest fan, but it's hard to argue with 21p/9r/3b. He repeatedly bamboozled Nerlens Noel and the other Philly bigs with his arsenal of hook shots, including one play in the first half where he got Noel to badly bite on a faked righty hook to set up his left. C'mon Nerlens, read the scouting report. Henson isn't ever going to be a dominant rebounder, and getting four or five on a given night isn't going to cut it. But nine is not four or five. It is more than that, sometimes twice as many. Nine is good.
- -- Zaza Pachulia started in Henson's place at center, presumably to loosen up the offense somewhat in MCW's first game as a Buck. The obvious concern with MCW is that his lack of perimeter shooting will allow teams to cheat off him, so throwing Zaza back into the starting lineup makes a fair bit of sense. Even though he's not a floor-stretcher per se, Zaza can at least knock down a 15-footer semi-regularly in addition to using his screening and passing to open things up for teammates.
-- I'm looking forward to Henson (and Zaza Pachulia and Miles Plumlee) playing with a solid pick-and-roll point guard again (miss you Kendall). If they're active in rolling and finishing, that's just going to add another wrinkle to the offense and make the defense think twice about sinking down and leaving the shooters open.
-- The Bucks now head West for a four-game road trip. The finale in Golden State on Tuesday will be a huge test, but games against the Lakers, Jazz, and Nuggets -- all winnable games -- should give the Bucks ample time to get the new guys a little more run with their new teammates. The next game is Friday. Hopefully it goes as well as it did tonight.