The Bucks desperately needed a win in Brooklyn last night, but unfortunately not even 63 minutes, 127 points and 81 rebounds (!) were enough to get one against the Nets. As with recent losses in Indiana and New Orleans, the Bucks had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Giannis Antetokounmpo's jumper wouldn't drop, and it was a similar story when Khris Middleton had a chance to win it at the end of overtime. And so it goes -- at least for now.
But there's something to be said for the Bucks putting the ball in the hands of Middleton and Antetokounmpo when it matters most, and if any positive can be drawn from the Bucks' post-all-star break swoon it's that Milwaukee's starting wings are taking on leading roles and delivering in ways we hadn't previously seen. Despite struggling with his finishing en route to 7/19 shooting, Antetokounmpo notched 23 points and 14 boards last night, upping his March averages to 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 56% true shooting in 38 minutes per game. Those are huge numbers for a 20-year-old still learning on the job, and they offer a glimpse of the sort of volume production we might expect next year. And if he can add a more consistent three point stroke over the summer...well, next year's going to be really fun. In case you missed last night's marathon, here's how Giannis got his:
Though defenses are focusing on him more than ever, Middleton's production has similarly spiked this month, with his averages swelling to 19.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in nearly 39 minutes per game. He's hit half of the 4.8 threes he's attempted per game en route to 56% true shooting, and in the process he's turning it over fewer than twice per game. The Bucks' "floppy" sets have become a favorite for freeing Middleton for catch-and-shoot opportunities from the wings, though we're also seeing more of Middleton putting the ball on the floor and taking on smaller guys in the post. It's still rare for him to get to the rim in halfcourt, but one or two dribbles are generally all he needs to create just enough space for a quick pull-up.
So aside from another sloppy performance from Michael Carter-Williams, there was still plenty to be pleased with when it came to individual performances last night. Four Bucks starters cracked 20+ points, all three of the Bucks' starting frontcourt players notched 20/10 nights, and Zaza Pachulia had the game of his life with 22 points, 21 boards (including an NBA season-high 18 offensive boards) and seven assists. Normally I don't go out of my way to celebrate Zaza's contributions -- 30-year-olds don't get much love around here -- but his effort on the boards last night was downright absurd at times. So Zaza, here's your moment: