After a wishy-washy win against the Brooklyn Nets at home on Saturday, the Bucks will do their best to outwit Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs tonight.
They certainly won’t get style points for it, but the Bucks pulled away when it mattered in the closing phases of their latest 112-103 victory over the Nets. Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t at his high-flying best offensively, yet he still powered his way to a 16-point, 10-rebound, six-assist, five-block evening. And while he may not have been the one putting the ball through the hoop the majority of the time, it was obvious his presence was enough of a threat for Brooklyn to double him. Those rotations gave Giannis the chance to show a bit of creativity in getting the ball to guys like John Henson (20 points) to convert. Below you can check out Eric and Frank’s latest podcast, which dives into both the Brooklyn game as well as tonight’s test vs. the Spurs.
What was troubling Saturday night was the inability, or perhaps unwillingness, of Milwaukee to properly keep tabs on Brooklyn’s shooters. After the Nets put up 40 attempts from three last Thursday, the need to lock up the perimeter should have been obvious. Instead, Brook Lopez, Bojan Bogdanovic and the like found themselves often unguarded outside, practically begging for them to put it up, and put it up they did with 41 attempts. Luckily, they converted just 26.8% from deep, but it is worry to see a team that incorporates 45% of their shot attempts from three be left unchallenged at critical moments. On that topic, the Bucks have thus far benefited from holding opponents to a league-best 31.2% from deep, but they continue to concede a ton of three-point attempts (30 per game). The good news is that they also lead the league in contesting opponent threes, but history suggests their opponents won’t miss at such a prolific rate forever, which is particularly worrying given the number of threes they allow.
Unfortunately, the Spurs may be just the team where that approach by Milwaukee really bites: though the Spurs take a large majority of their chances inside the three point line (only 27.2% from beyond), they make those shots count by hitting 40% of their nightly 21.6 3PA — best in the league. Not only that, but San Antonio can seemingly score from just about anywhere, and while Milwaukee’s defense has slowly crept up in league-wide rankings (currently at ninth in DRtg), they’re practically bound to pay if, say, Jabari Parker routinely finds himself matched up on LaMarcus Aldridge, or, God forbid, Kawhi Leonard.
What does that all mean? Bad things, probably.
Khris Middleton, as always, is the only guy out with injury for Milwaukee this evening.
Yes, Tim Duncan finally hung it up this past off-season. No, that hasn’t meaningfully slowed the Spurs down — at least in the regular season.
They’re currently the two seed in the Western Conference, have a top-10 offense and an upper-half-of-the-league defense, riding the sheer force that is Kawhi Leonard (among others) to an impressive 16-4 mark heading into tonight. Per 36, Leonard has taken another leap with season of averages around 25.8 pts, 6.4 rebs, and 3.1 asts, and 2.2 stls a night. He’s long been the definition of a two-way player (just look at his two DPOY awards), but it is clear that he is the go-to on offense these days. Giannis may be able to slow him down a bit, but then the trouble for Milwaukee will be keeping Leonard’s compatriots contained. Still, Duncan’s absence does appear to be factoring in on defense, where they’ve gone from historically great to about average so far this season.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green, and Tony Parker round out their usual starting five, and that lineup has a net rating of +6.5. Swap Parker out for Patty Mills, and that rating skyrockets to +20.0. Not only that, but their most used all-bench unit has a net rating of +45.8 (on 33.3 minutes of usage, but, c’mon, look at that number!). All that is meant to say that the Spurs have options at essentially every position, and they have the HOF head coach to make sure as much pain is inflicted as is humanely possible.
Tonight is more likely than not going to come down to whether the Bucks can keep up offensively, and if that’s the case, it’s fair to question whether Milwaukee is nearly consistent enough to win. Barring an off night from Pop’s club, it’ll take some big statlines from Giannis, Jabari, and a few other guys to keep things within reasonable striking distance.
In regards to injuries, keep an eye out for Tony Parker who has been troubled by a left quad injury and whose status is still unknown.