The Milwaukee Bucks needed some serious clutch shooting from Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo to beat the Lakers in overtime three weeks ago. Tonight they had neither of those guys, they couldn't shoot worth a lick, and they came away with a loss for their troubles.
Kicking off a four-game Western swing against the league's fourth-worst team, the Bucks struggled early, recovered for a while and then were utterly obliterated in the fourth quarter, as the Lakers overcame a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to wallop them 36-18 over the game's final 11 minutes. The Bucks' lack of perimeter scoring was a problem (4/17 from three), but an even bigger issue was their complete inability to contain the unstoppable (?) trio of Wayne Ellington (one million percent shooting in the fourth), Jeremy Lin (carving them up in P&R down the stretch) and Jordan Clarkson (never missing in the first three quarters). Each had between 14 and 16 points and added five or six assists, completely outplaying their Milwaukee backcourt counterparts to send L.A. to their third win in a row.
Ersan Ilyasova somewhat quietly led the Bucks with a workman-like 17 points and 12 boards, but otherwise there weren't any performances to write home about. Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled early and late en route to yet another poor shooting performance (4/12 fg), though he still managed to post a Giannis-like 13p/8r/4a/1b. As for Michael Carter-Williams? Well, he showed good judgment in his shot selection (3/6 fg, 8 pts), but he also managed as many turnovers as assists (four apiece), including a costly throwaway that led to a Laker layup down the stretch. With Khris Middleton misfiring from outside all night (4/13 fg, 0/3 threes, 8 rebs, 3 ast) and the Lakers justifiably not showing MCW much respect, the Bucks needed 22 fast break points to build their lead, only to fall flat when the game slowed down in the fourth.
L.A. led 7-0 early and by as many as 10 in the first quarter, capitalizing on a seriously flat opening effort from the Bucks. Giannis had three turnovers and an 0/4 start from the field, leading to some earlier-than-usual subs and some hop in the Lakers' steps. Thankfully, Byron Scott's troops couldn't really take advantage of the Bucks' slow start, and by the second quarter the Bucks began to find their energy on both ends.
Giannis helped kickstart a 23-9 surge with a tip-in and two great takes to the rim -- one a coast to coaster -- while Ennis and Bayless also did their part in pushing the tempo.
Giannis coast to coast, y'all https://t.co/2jqh3LovXK— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) February 28, 2015
Miles Plumlee provided a boost off the bench, and the Bucks helped their cause with nine offensive rebounds and 12 fast break points to lead 47-45 at the half. The Bucks then built their lead slightly in the third, but they never pulled away, setting up L.A.'s big fourth quarter in which Lin's game management and Ellington's shot-making were too much for the Bucks to handle.
-- How the Bucks will adapt to having a point guard who doesn't stretch the floor remains somewhat unclear, though early indications are that it will involve a lot of Zaza Pachulia elbow catches and handoffs. To MCW's credit he isn't forcing jumpers even when teams are willing to give it to him, and after only two games he's still developing a rhythm with his teammates. But the entire team will be more reliant than ever on continuous cutting and ball movement in order to avoid becoming predictable, and it's difficult to imagine MCW being a long-term keeper if he's only going to shoot inside 10 feet. For now they're trying to use Pachulia's facilitating abilities to offset some of those concerns, but we'll see how it goes.
-- It will also be interesting to see how the Bucks' late-game lineups evolve with the new personnel. Bayless struggled with his jumper all night, but with Mayo resting a sore hamstring Kidd opted to roll with him and MCW together down the stretch. That also meant Ilyasova was the odd man out when Giannis returned after a long rest in the latter half of the fourth quarter. You'd hope that MCW's shaky shot-creating ability won't demand another ball-handler always play late in games, but it makes a fair bit of sense at the moment considering he can't predictably get himself makeable shots late in the clock.
-- Coming into this trip I would have gladly taken a 2-2 record, but now that seems like a best-case scenario considering they finish it up next Wednesday in Oakland against the league-best Warriors. As mediocre as the Jazz (Saturday) and Nuggets (Tuesday) have been, the Bucks aren't talented enough to expect easy wins against anyone on the road, a fact that was reiterated tonight. That's not a knock on the revised roster either -- the Bucks have been maxing out their talent basically all year, and on nights when they don't have their A-game their margin of error is extremely thin. That doesn't make a loss like this any more palatable, but keep in mind that they were still in the driver's seat before falling apart defensively down the stretch. The sun will rise tomorrow.
-- Despite the loss, the Bucks are somehow still just a half game behind the Wizards for the fifth seed in the East, thanks in large part to the remarkable tank job happening in the nation's capital at the moment. In case you're bummed out about the Bucks, take solace in the fact that Washington lost in Philly tonight after getting blown out by 20 in Minnesota on Wednesday. Ladies and gentlemen, the Eastern Conference!