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Bucks-Bulls Final Score: Bench helps Bucks come back and hold on in Chicago, 93-91

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NBA: Preseason-Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason openers shouldn’t be mistaken for beauty contests, and the Bucks’ exhibition opener in Chicago on Monday night was no exception. After falling behind early, the Bucks’ bench dug them out of a deep early hole and helped them control the game throughout the middle quarters, leading by double-digits for much of the game before needing a late push to hang on, 93-91.

Greg Monroe (15 pts, 9 rebs), Matthew Dellavedova (11 pts on 6 shots, 6 ast), and Michael Carter-Williams (a chaotic 10 pts, 11 rebs, 6 ast, 4 to) were among five Bucks reserves in double-digits, while Giannis Antetokounmpo (12 pts on 6 shots, 2 ast, 2 to) and Jabari Parker (13 pts on 15 shots, 9 rebs) struggled early before eventually finding a bit of a rhythm in the second and third quarters. Jimmy Butler scored 13 points in 15 first half minutes but sat the second half along with Dwyane Wade (6 points on a pair of threes?), while Taj Gibson gave the Bucks problems on the glass with a workman-like 11 points and 12 rebounds.

With Malcolm Brogdon and Rashad Vaughn getting the nod in the backcourt, the Bucks’ starters slogged through an ugly first six minutes, falling behind 14-3 as the Bulls packed the paint and allowed the Bucks to go hunting for contested shots inside the arc (stop me if you’ve heard this before). Taj Gibson dared Jabari Parker to shoot jumpers as he sagged off to clog up any attempts by Giannis to run P&R, and the net result was Parker missing four of his first five jumpers as the Bucks watched Wade and Butler splash threes to fuel the Bulls’ quick start.

Still, the Bucks’ defense — with the help of some sloppy Bulls’ offense — forced eight turnovers and allowed just one offensive rebound, and the second unit eventually found life offensively as well. A lineup of mostly Monroe/Delly/MCW/Delly/Beasley finished the quarter on a 22-7 run, with Monroe looking lively on both ends to the tune of eight points and three (!) blocks. Befitting of a preseason opener, the Bulls racked up a dozen fouls leading to a whopping 16 Bucks free throw attempts.

Also helpful: Mirza Teletovic reminding the Bucks that it’s 2016 and the three point line is a thing that exists. After the Bucks failed to attempt a single three in the game’s first eight minutes, Teletovic needed just 20 seconds to hoist and bury his first three, sparking a flurry from deep including two each from Delly (both of Giannis post passes) and Michael Beasley (both from the corner). Malcolm Brogdon and Jabari also got into the act, as the Bucks began to take advantage of the drive-and-kicks that the Bulls seemed more than happy to concede. All told the Bucks hit 8/14 from deep in the first half, riding a 37-12 bench scoring advantage to take a comfortable 55-42 lead at the intermission.

The Bulls chipped away at the Bucks lead in the third, as Milwaukee missed all six of its triples and Gibson’s diligence on the glass began to wear the Bucks down. Parker forced things at times but still scored six points by simply willing his way to the basket, while Giannis found a bit more success with seven points on a jumper, tip-in and dunk off a lobbed entry pass from Parker.

The bench unit then helped the Bucks re-extend their lead to 13 on two occasions in the fourth, but things began to unravel as the deeper bench unit struggled to contain the end of the Bulls’ bench. MCW was all over the place in both good and bad ways late, but he ultimately helped the Bucks hang on with a huge offensive rebound and set up Vaughn’s only field goal — a corner three that gave the Bucks a 93-91 lead. Chicago had a chance to tie after MCW was called for a phantom foul on Cristiano Felicio, but the Brazilian big man missed both free throws with 3.4 seconds left to allow the Bucks to hang on.

- Frank Madden

Tidbits:

  • During the national anthem, the Bucks stood together with most players draping their left arm around their teammate immediately to their left and their right hand over their heart.
  • The Bucks were 29th in corner three attempts last year, averaging just 4.6 per game. Tonight they were 5/14 from the corners and 10/25 overall, backing up Jason Kidd’s suggestion last week that the Bucks would indeed change their non-three-point-shooting ways.
  • No Jason Terry for the Bucks tonight. I didn’t see a box score, but I would not be surprised if he received a “DNP - Old” from Jason Kidd. Kidd told reporters before the game he knew what Terry could do.
  • Thon Maker was out for the Bucks tonight with a sprained right wrist. Before the game, Kidd mentioned that there is a chance Maker will be ready to go on Saturday for the Bucks game against the Dallas Mavericks in Madison.
  • The Bucks did not start Matthew Dellavedova on Monday night and instead went with Malcolm Brogdon instead. DO NOT READ ANYTHING EXTRA INTO THIS MOVE. Kidd was simply experimenting with some different lineups.
  • With the addition of Brogdon, the Bucks starting lineup was Antetokounmpo, Brogdon, Vaughn, Parker, and Plumlee.
  • After the game, Jason Kidd said, “We’ll have a different starting lineup on Saturday and I thought we looked at a lot of different lineups tonight. And I thought the combos were...I thought Vaughn and Malcolm were two young players playing out there against veteran guys.”

Observations:

  • So, I mentioned it on the Monday edition of Locked on Bucks, but all of Milwaukee is going to fall in love with Matthew Dellavedova in a hurry. He almost always makes the right play. He knocks down open threes. He plays solid defense. He is pretty much exactly what every Bucks fan dreamed the team’s off guard could be next to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
  • Greg Monroe dove for a loose ball tonight and though I try not read much into the preseason, that sure seems like a lot of effort from a “disgruntled” player. Maybe he will embrace a role of the bench.
  • The story remains the same for Malcolm Brogdon and Rashad Vaughn. Make perimeter catch-and-shoot looks and you can play. Miss them and there isn’t much reason for you to be on the floor. Considering Vaughn was 1/7 and Brogdon 1/6, neither made a compelling case tonight.
  • Give Mirza Teletovic an inch behind the three point line and he will make you pay.
  • If the Bucks still have all three of their handsomely paid centers on Opening Night, I will be fascinated to see how Kidd attempts to work them into the rotation because I just don’t see how it’s possible for there to be enough minutes for all three centers along with Parker and Teletovic. (And yes, I am aware I did not even mention Thon Maker yet.)
  • Below, you will see two plays. Watch Taj Gibson in the middle of the floor on each possession. Here is an Antetokounmpo-Plumlee pick and roll with Jabari Parker at the top of the key.

Teams desperately want to put their help defenders in the middle of the floor against Antetokounmpo. The less open space they can show him, the better.

When Parker is placed at the top of the key (or even above the break shaded to the side), the opponent’s help defenders can clog the lane and make it difficult for both Antetokounmpo and possibly more importantly Miles Plumlee on his roll. Look at how many obstacles Plumlee has on the roll above. There is absolutely no way for him to make a clean rim run.

This play might show it even better.

Look at how far Gibson sits off of Parker. It is going to be difficult for Antetokounmpo to get anything off of this play and the defenders will be sitting there waiting for Plumlee if he would get a touch as the play progresses.

Parker has tried to counter this defensive strategy by attacking the closeout (first play) or cutting behind the help (second play), but attacking a blob of defenders already waiting for you might not end up being the most efficient play no matter how well Parker attacks the rim.

Now, watch another middle of the floor pick and roll with Dellavedova and Monroe with Teletovic occupying the same spot as Parker.

It’s not revolutionary to suggest Parker and Teletovic are different players, but these plays illustrate just how difficult it can be to generate spacing if teams don’t respect Parker’s jumpshot, even with two shooters on floor with him, and the ways Parker is attempting to counter teams helping so far off of him.

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- Eric Nehm