The Milwaukee Bucks still can't buy a win, but they've apparently got a monopoly on heartache.
Basketball Gods were like, "How can we make the Bucks' nine-game road losing streak worse? Make the next one triple-OT or something?"— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 21, 2015
That's all I could think as I watched the clock run out in Brooklyn's 129-127 triple overtime win on Friday, the Bucks' tenth straight road loss and fifth straight defeat overall. For the third time in eight days the Bucks had a chance to win at the buzzer -- two chances actually! -- and for the third and fourth times they came up empty. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton both had potential game-winning looks, but their misses handed Brooklyn enough chances to escape with the win and move with 1.5 games of the East's eighth seed.
Playing a mediocre Brooklyn team that they'd already defeated twice -- including a triple overtime affair on the same court back in November -- the Bucks started brightly and led by double-digits in both halves. You never felt like the Bucks were going to run away and hide, but they were playing well, the bench was pumped, and the vibes were...good. Hey, maybe this road nonsense could finally be ending, eh?
Unfortunately, Milwaukee started to cool in the third quarter and ultimately needed an historic night on the offensive glass -- 38 offensive rebounds! -- just to claw their way back into it and force overtime. For the night the Bucks collected an utterly absurd 81 rebounds, with Zaza Pachulia leading the way with a gladiatorial 22 points, 21 rebounds (18 offensive!) and seven assists. Sadly, neither Pachulia nor any of the other Bucks could find an answer for Brook Lopez inside (32 points, 18 rebounds), while Joe Johnson (24 points, 7 assists) seemed to deliver big shots whenever the Bucks had the Nets on the ropes.
And yes, I'm using a lot of italics tonight, but this game demanded it. With the Bucks' bench once again missing any type of scoring punch, the Bucks got at least 19 points from each of their starters, while all three of their starting forwards claimed at least 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. Giannis struggled with his finishing all night, but he still managed 23 points (7/19 fg, 9/12 ft), 14 rebounds and did an admiral job on Johnson before fouling out late in the third OT. Middleton also did his share, scoring 29 on 23 shots to go with eight assists and six rebounds, and Ersan Ilyasova added 20p/13r.
But timing is everything, and once again the Bucks came up short in that department. Giannis missed a decent look on a turnaround at the end of regulation, while Middleton missed a good look at a pull-up to end the second OT. Khris almost redeemed himself with a couple of tough shots to keep the Bucks in it late in the third OT, but he bricked two potential game-tying threes in the final 10 seconds of the final overtime to seal the loss.
-- Kidd has generally avoided running two of his centers at once, but gave Miles Plumlee and John Henson extended burn together in both halves. Both showed good energy, particularly on the defensive end, with Henson swatting everything in his vicinity en route to seven blocks and ten boards in 21 minutes. Unfortunately the story was less promising on the offensive end, with Henson in particular struggling to hold on to the ball whenever he got the ball in good position down low.
-- Michael Carter-Williams still can't shoot, and tonight he struggled mightily with his finishing as well, ending with an ugly 7/26 shooting line for 19 points and just three assists. His mindset on the offensive end wasn't necessarily bad; he relentlessly went at the Nets' smaller guards and got into the paint all night, including in the second OT when it looked like he might have won the game with a pair of tough driving finishes in the final minute. But he looked out of control on many of his attempts, and his four misses without a make in the final OT were a big part of the game slipping away.
-- The game's most absurd possession came in the second OT, when the Bucks collected five consecutive offensive rebounds as part of a 73 second possession. The Bucks repeatedly tried to post on the left block, with MCW, Giannis and Middleton all getting repeated touches as Kidd looked to exploit Jarrett Jack in particular. But they had to settle for a Giannis trip to the line, where he made 1/2.
-- The Nets' bench outscored the Bucks' reserves 49-14, though that shouldn't be much of a surprise given the ongoing absence of O.J. Mayo and Jared Dudley.
-- The Bucks' next chance to snap their skid is Sunday afternoon at home against LeBron and the Cavs. Translation: life's not getting any easier. After the Cavs, the Bucks get three more at home -- critical matchups next week against the chasing Pacers and Heat, followed by a rematch with the league-best Warriors next Saturday.
The scary part of Giannis' impressive stat line is that he really didn't even have his A-game going for most of the night in Brooklyn.
There was nothing to complain about when it came to his aggressiveness; he got after Johnson all night defensively and only took one shot outside of 10 feet, showing little fear in repeatedly attacking guys one-on-one from the top of the key. But he also missed 11 shots in the paint, many of them short in-between attempts and bankers that you'd normally expect him to make. And that alone says something -- even on a night where he scored 23 points, you could have reasonably hoped for 30.
This was also the first time we saw Giannis become a focal point in end-of-game situations, which in itself is pretty damn cool. At the end of regulation he brought the ball up, waved off his teammates and was ready to take Johnson off the dribble when the veteran took a foul to give with just over four seconds left. No worries; out of the timeout Kidd showed confidence in his 20-year-old by drawing up a post catch on the right side, though Johnson was able to hold enough ground to force Giannis into a challenging but makeable turnaround. It didn't go in, but Giannis atoned for it in the first OT with a tough shot from the same spot to tie the game with 15 seconds left. It was a bit of an excuse-me type shot, as Giannis drew contact from Bojan Bogdanovic and was looking for a foul when he tossed up his off-balance jumper.
And now for some highlights:
Middleton throws the TD pass to Giannis for the slam and haaaaannggggg https://t.co/RbbP9VX1hV— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 21, 2015
Do you think Thad Young wanted any part of him on this drive and finish at the rim?
Giannis drives...Thad Young ducks. https://t.co/ruFBrp2DPC— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 21, 2015
Ten games into March, Giannis is now averaging 16.8 points, 7.8 boards and 1.6 blocks per game, providing a serious silver lining to the Bucks' ongoing struggles. See, don't you feel better?