77 free throws.
And one exhausting but desperately needed win for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Realistically it probably shouldn't have been quite so difficult for the Bucks on Thursday night -- not when Ersan Ilyasova scores 34 points on an absurd 12/14 shooting from the field, and not after Milwaukee led by as many as 21 in the first half and held a double-digit advantage for much of the second half.
But the Bucks are all about "difficult" these days, and the visiting Pacers (and refs) did their parts as well in making the Bucks sweat down the stretch of their 111-107 home win. Indiana's backcourt triumvirate of George Hill (26 points on 7/12 shooting including 6/10 from three), C.J. Watson (23 points on a mere nine shots) and C.J. Miles (24 points on 7/14 shooting) punished the Bucks from three point range all night, and the officials' whistles were worn out by an absurd number of team fouls, particularly in the second half. It made for a somewhat ugly, disjointed game, which is weird considering Indy's shooting exhibition (14/30 from three) and the Bucks' efficiency from everywhere (53% overall, 9/19 from deep).
Despite Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo both being available off the bench for the first time in weeks, Milwaukee's starters once again carried the load. After missing his first attempt, Ilyasova barely even touched rim the rest of the night, hitting his final 12 shots including five in a row from deep. Giannis Antetokounmpo shook off a quiet start to score 16 on 7/10 shooting, Khris Middleton added 17 on 12 shots, and Michael Carter-Williams had another uneven finishing night but still managed to stuff the box score with 13 points (3/11 fg, 7/11 ft), eight assists, five rebounds, four steals and just two turnovers. When all was said and done, a combined 92 points from the starters helped offset another ineffective performance from the bench, with Mayo and Dudley combining for just 2/8 shooting in 25 minutes.
The early action was all one-way traffic in the Bucks' favor, as Ilyasova (17) single-handed outscored the Pacers in a 34-15 first quarter. Indy's jump shots were wearing the paint off the rim, while on the other end the Bucks were running and passing the Pacers to pieces.
But Indy clawed their way back into it behind some terrific three-point shooting, hitting 8/16 from deep in the first half with C.J. "Why is he always so good against the Bucks?" Miles the danger man with 17 points on just eight shots. Still, the Bucks led by a dozen at the half and 11 after three, as Indiana simply couldn't get enough stops to make more of a game of it.
That changed early in the fourth, mostly thanks to Hill getting open repeatedly on good drive-and-kick-and-pass action from the Pacers. Two straight threes from Hill gave him 13 in the period and narrowed the Bucks' lead to 94-92 with just six minutes left in the fourth, but MCW answered with a three-point play immediately thereafter, and Middleton followed suit with a corner three to make it a more comfortable 100-92.
In theory that should have been it, but Watson answered with five straight points and Indy eventually drew within three after Giannis split a pair of foul shots with 11 seconds remaining. The Bucks wisely switched everything on the ensuing possession, forcing Hill to run significant time off the clock before finally shaking Zaza Pachulia for a decent look at a game-tying three. Thankfully it rimmed out, sealing the Bucks' second straight home win and returning them to an even .500 for the season.
-- It may not be the most attractive basketball in the world, but Kidd continues to show no hesitation in trying to exploit his team's size advantage against smaller defenders. Tonight that took the form of repeated MCW post-ups from the left side, which worked particularly well against Hill in the third quarter. Milwaukee went to the same action about a half dozen straight times, getting MCW a layup and another trip to the foul line in addition to setting up Giannis for a short floater and Henson for two close-range hook shots (one of which he made, the other missed). The Bucks have bogged down at times while watching MCW back down smaller defenders, but good things have happened when they cut and continue to move.
-- It was good to see Mayo and Dudley back on the court together, but that shouldn't be confused with Mayo and Dudley looking good while back on the court together. Mayo missed his first four shots before draining a much-needed three in the third, while Dudley was just 1/3 from the field in 13 minutes. On the plus side, Mayo did add four assists in his 13 minutes. Hopefully it's just a matter of time before they're back to their best, but for the moment it's not quite there.
Giannis wasn't forcing anything in the early going, taking just one shot in the game's first 18 minutes as he repeatedly kicked the ball out to teammates after driving to the rim. But New Giannis always seems to get his points (pretty cool, right?), and sure enough he got free for a couple of inside hoops late in the second quarter before becoming more of a factor in the second half.
He opened the third with a layup on a nice set play (kudos, Joe Prunty) before finishing an MCW pass inside and then stepping outside to bury a corner jumper later in the period. He then started the fourth on a high note, scoring on back-to-back isolation plays including an off-the-dribble jumper from the foul line. It wasn't a great night on the boards -- he had just four rebounds as the Bucks were -12 on the glass -- but he played under control and committed just one turnover after coughing it up six times (including three charges) on Tuesday.