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Bucks vs. Rockets Final Score: Khris Middleton and Greg Monroe not enough in 102-98 loss

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The Bucks' starting five had a big night, but weren't able to put together a big enough run to beat the Rockets.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At times Friday night, the Bucks looked fantastic. At other times, they looked awful. The same could be said of the Rockets. Inconsistency was the game's major theme. Eventually though, the Rockers were able to put together just a few more minutes of good basketball and closed out a 102-98 victory over the Bucks in Houston.

It was all about the Bucks starters on Friday night as they played 75 percent of the Bucks' 240 available minutes (Khris Middleton played 43 minutes and Giannis Antetokounmpo 40) and scored 82 of the Bucks' 98 points. The Bucks' leading scorers were Middleton (despite an uneven shooting night) and Greg Monroe with 21 points each, while Giannis added 18 points and six rebounds. Also notable among the starters, Jabari Parker recorded his second double-double (11 points/10 rebounds plus four assists, two blocks and two steals) of the season while Michael Carter-Williams added 11 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. James Harden scored a hyper-efficient 30 points on just 15 shots to go with eight assists, while Trevor Ariza matched Harden's five threes and added 19.

A slew of early Rockets threes saw the the Bucks trail 13-5 to open the game and, despite an early Joe Prunty timeout, things didn't get much better as the Bucks continued to trail for a majority of the quarter. The only thing that was able to get the Bucks back into the game was the white-hot Khris Middleton. Middleton scored nine of the quarter's final 11 points and brought his team to within three after one quarter.

After taking a 33-31 lead on a Rashad Vaughn three early in the second quarter, the Bucks allowed the Rockets to go on a 13-0 run, in which they went scoreless for almost five minutes. The rest of the second quarter didn't get much better for the Bucks and it appeared as though the Bucks would erase seemingly all of the goodwill of the last week with a lackadaisical performance against the aimless Rockets.

However, after trailing by a dozen at the break, the Bucks scored the first six points of the second half and quickly got themselves back into the game. Six Giannis Antetokounmpo points in the middle of the quarter helped the Bucks keep the game within a score for much of the quarter before a number of turnovers allowed the Rockets to pull away again and head into the final quarter with a 13 point lead.

Milwaukee was forced to play catch-up throughout the final period, but couldn't actually get within striking distance until an Antetokounmpo dunk with 1:12 left decreased the Rockets' lead to just six. After a defensive stop, Greg Monroe was fouled with 39 seconds left and went to the line for two free throws. He made just one free throw though to make the score 100-95. After another stop, the Bucks went to Khris Middleton, who missed his first three point attempt before hitting a second look with six seconds remaining to cut the deficit to just two. The Bucks fouled Trevor Ariza and he hit both free throws to seal a 102-98 victory for the Rockets.

The Bucks will have a chance to finish up their four-game road trip above .500 when they travel to New Orleans on Saturday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.

- Eric Nehm

Observations

  • The Rockets seemed like they shot well from three point range, but in reality they just shot a ton from three point range. Going small for much of the night in Dwight Howard's absence, Houston attempted 30 more threes than the Bucks (15/44 vs. 3/14) and finished the night +36 from behind the arc, helping erase a 58-42 deficit in the paint. Not that either team was a pushover inside -- both the Bucks and Rockets blocked 10 shots in total.
  • Middleton shot the Bucks back into the game on a couple occasions, but his dry spells also contributed notably to the Bucks' inability to get over the hump. He once again was the Bucks' primary initiator for much of the night, hoisting up 21 shots and collecting a team-high seven assists. But the Rockets also forced him to turn it over four times and he he once again struggled from three (1/7). It ain't easy being the man.
  • Parker scored three points in the opening minutes and then retreated into an offensive shell for the remainder of the half, but thankfully looked a bit more aggressive in the second. While he finished with a modest 11 points on 5/9 shooting, he stroked a midrange jumper and got loose for a big transition slam to help the spark the Bucks early in the third. More impressively, he made a number of defensive plays and collected his second double-double in the past two weeks.
  • Giannis finished with 18 on 7/12 shooting from the field and 4/4 from the line, though it felt like kind of a quiet night for him. In the first half he really worked to create inside shots for himself en route to eight points; in the second half played more off his teammates, cutting to the hoop to finish a pair of late dunks after stroking an open midrange shot earlier.
  • This had to be Monroe's most athletic night as a Buck. After dunking just seven times in the Bucks' first 44 games, he threw down three times tonight, including an impressive pick-and-roll alley-oop from MCW in the second half. Even more impressively, he swatted four shots -- seemingly all of them coming after a Rocket appeared to have had a step on Monroe going to the hoop.
  • Both teams took advantage of each other's lacking transition defense, with the Bucks ultimately claiming a 21-18 edge in fast break points.
- Frank Madden