The Bucks and Grizzlies were both missing their starting point guards on Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Bucks, the Grizzlies didn't seem to miss much else.
The Bucks' eighth straight road loss was ultimately similar in tone to most of their other recent losses: No bench production, a heavy reliance on Giannis Antetokounmpo (19 pts, 6 rebs, 7/10 fg) and Khris MIddleton (17 pts, 6/15 fg), and a major deficit from behind the arc (5/19 vs. 8/14 for Memphis). Throw in the added difficulty of just a single healthy point guard -- 20-year-old Tyler Ennis -- and this had all the makings of a long night, which eventually it was. After some early turnover problems, Memphis' starters used their size to bully the Bucks inside and out, piling up 73 of the Grizzlies' 96 points while hitting 6/9 threes. The Bucks' starters nearly matched them with a combined 69 points, but Milwaukee's depleted bench offered next to nothing (14 points), and the Bucks' "little engine that could" act ran out of gas late in the third quarter.
Still, give the Bucks some credit. With Michael Carter-Williams (ankle), Jerryd Bayless (ankle), and Jared Dudley (knee) out and O.J. Mayo (hamstring) limited to just seven minutes off the bench, the odds of stealing a road win were slim even with Conley resting a bum ankle. So the remaining Bucks gave it the old college try, with Giannis looking lively throughout and Ennis balancing bad shooting (3/14 fg) with some encouraging distribution (11 assists, three turnovers). Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia also had their moments offensively, but ultimately the Bucks' starting bigs had little chance whenever they found themselves trying to check Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol on their own. A steady diet of Bucks double-teams limited both to modest box score lines, but it also opened up more space for the likes of Courtney Lee (17 pts on 6/10 fg) and Beno Udrih (14 pts on 6/10), and eventually the Grizzlies' depth won out.
The Bucks were actually the sharper team early, jumping out to a quick 14-4 lead thanks in no small part to a series of Grizzly turnovers. Though he missed his first four shots, Ennis looked comfortable getting the Bucks into early offense (5 assists in the first), Giannis was hurting the Grizzlies off the bounce (6 points in the first five minutes), and Memphis' seven first quarter turnovers helped the Bucks pile up nine fast break points. Some of that was due to the Bucks' length, but a number of others were simply unforced errors.
Alas, the Bucks' fast start didn't last long. Tony Allen's insertion gave Memphis a shot in the arm defensively, and the Grizzlies' size became increasingly difficult for Milwaukee to handle on the other end. The Bucks tried to double Randolph at every opportunity, but that left them vulnerable to ball swings, which gave Lee and Udrih options to attack off the Bucks' scrambling closeouts. Meanwhile, without turnovers to feed their break the Bucks' offense began to bog down, and Milwaukee needed a pair of late Ilyasova threes to keep things respectable at the half, 49-42. The Bucks didn't go quietly in the third, and eventually closed to 63-58 after a Chris Johnson three and Zaza finish in the paint. But a 12-0 run from the Griz sealed it, with Randolph and Allen the instigators.
-- At least we still have Giannis, eh? After struggling through a 4/14 shooting night in Indiana, Antetokounmpo got off to a quick start on Saturday and was the Bucks' most dangerous player throughout. Within four minutes of the opening tip he had finished a transition layup, buried a midrange jumper off the bounce and then pulled off this:
Giannis drivin'! Giannis slammin'! Giannis yellin'! https://t.co/Z8TCaZIKcw— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 15, 2015
He added seven more points in the second quarter, sharing ball-handling duties with Mayo as part of the second unit and delivering a few more highlight-worthy plays in the second half.
Z-Bo opts not to challenge Giannis at the rim. Probably a good idea. https://t.co/sgIrEE5KSc— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 15, 2015
Giannis with the one-touch around the back pass to Plums for the slam. How-hum. https://t.co/wfmlLn2sHE— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 15, 2015
Giannis just kind of does stuff like this now. 20 years old. https://t.co/7SzxZmBziC— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 15, 2015
He might have piled up even bigger numbers if he hadn't gone to the bench for good with seven minutes left, though he appeared to be favoring his ankle after getting caught in a pileup on the offensive end. Fortunately it sounds like nothing serious.
@KeiferHatges Giannis was having ankle looked at by trainer Scott Barthlama. But Giannis dressed at locker and said he thought it was OK.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) March 15, 2015
-- It's no secret the Bucks have struggled since dealing Brandon Knight for Carter-Williams, Ennis and Plumlee, but if you're looking for the real source of the Bucks' sudden nose-dive...
Bucks bench pre-all-star: 42 ppg, 47.3% shooting, 38.7% threes Bucks bench post-all-star: 27 ppg, 40.4% shooting, 30.1% threes— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 15, 2015
-- I'm not sure what to make of John Henson these days. In the last two games he's registered more technicals (2) than field goal attempts (1), and his 3/8 shooting from the foul line didn't do much to help the Bucks' efforts.