An angry Gregg Popovich means a motivated San Antonio Spurs team. And a motivated San Antonio Spurs team is not a fun thing to face.
To their credit, the Milwaukee Bucks made a game of it into the fourth quarter. They took advantage of San Antonio's occasional malaise, just what you have to do against a team coming off and overtime game the previous night. But even with their own offense playing pretty well, and the opposing defense nowhere near its usual level, keeping up with the Spurs proved an impossible task. In the end, San Antonio cruised to an easy victory, 114-103.
The textbook offensive execution was there for San Antonio. The Spurs ran their sets to perfection, setting up plenty of their trademark weakside corner threes. Opponents have gotten a consistent boost on offense this season thanks to Milwaukee propensity for turning the ball over, but Milwaukee actually took pretty good care of the ball Wednesday night, committing just 12 turnovers for the game. Didn't matter. San Antonio still carved up the Bucks' swarming defense to the tune of an incredible 122.6 offensive rating, relying on rapid ball movement to create open shots and a ton of shooting fouls--the Spurs took 38 free throws in total, making 30. For the game they outscored the Bucks by 12 points at the line.
That's just what the Spurs do. Milwaukee's defense thrives on taking opponents out of their comfort zone. Problem is, San Antonio's comfort zone is roughly the size of the American Southwest. They had an answer for everything, using Milwaukee's scrambling and swarming against them. Instead of losing their composure or rhythm, San Antonio patiently waited for some member of the Bucks' defense to get out of position and attacked. The numerous injuries that have sapped Milwaukee's depth means poor matchups and tired feet are the norm, and it was obvious players like Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia couldn't keep up with the perimeter shooting and motion in San Antonio's frontcourt.
Tim Duncan turned in a terrific all-around game for San Antonio, tallying 19 points, 5 rebounds, and a game-high 7 assists, in addition to three blocked shots. Danny Green led all scorers with 20 points, while Boris Diaw added 18 points (5-8 FG, 8-8 FT), 6 rebounds, and 5 assists off the bench.
For Milwaukee, the bright spots came, once again, from Giannis Antetokounmpo:
It was encouraging to see Giannis do much of his damage when the game was still close. The Spurs had a few mental lapses on the night, and often Giannis was there to take advantage, attacking the rim for dunks and shots in the paint. He was checked by Kawhi Leonard much of the night, and while Leonard is a strong enough defender to make anybody's night miserable, there were times where he looked powerless to stop Giannis from getting the shots he wanted. Some of those shots came in secondary break situations, where San Antonio's defense was mostly set but wasn't necessarily covering the ball as close as usual. When Giannis got moving with some space to work with, it was hard for the Spurs to slow him down. Unfortunately the jumper we've seen more of wasn't there for him tonight--he hit just two of his nine shot attempts outside the paint. He finished with 19 points to lead Milwaukee (8-16 FG, 3-3 FT) as well as 9 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a pair of blocks.
Michael Carter-Williams led Milwaukee with 6 assists, and buoyed his scoring numbers a bit by hitting 5-6 free throws, but he missed 6 of his 9 shots, struggling to finish near the rim thanks to the imposing figures of Duncan and Tiago Splitter. MCW also turned the ball over four times, the only player in the game to cough up possession more than twice. Ersan Ilyasova rebounded from a sluggish start that included a trio of misses on wide open three-pointers (and when I say wide open, I mean wiiiiide open) to finish with 17 points on 7-14 shooting (2-5 3PT). Khris Middleton was his hyper-efficient self, scoring 15 points on only 8 field goal attempts (1-2 3PT, 4-4 FT), but he couldn't find enough opportunities to turn that efficiency into another monster scoring night. Credit the Spurs for working to hold down the player who has been key to Milwaukee's offense since the All-Star break.
The loss drops the Bucks back to .500 for the first time since January 25th, when a 95-101 loss to--who else?--San Antonio put Milwaukee at 22 and 22. It also means the Bucks are just 2.5 games ahead of #7 Miami, and just 3.5 games ahead of Boston and Indiana, who sport identical 30-37 records as they jostle for the #8 spot in the Eastern Conference. That's right, the Bucks are just a few games from being completely out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Next up for Milwaukee is a trip to the Big Apple on Friday to take on the Brooklyn Nets in another return trip for Jason Kidd. The Bucks have won each of the first two games in their four-game series with the Nets this year.