The Atlanta Hawks’ offense has been inexplicably bad over the past three weeks. The Milwaukee Bucks’ defense has been inexplicably good in the same span. So maybe the Bucks’ soul-crushing second half on Friday was just the basketball gods’ way of making things all a bit more...explicable?
After running riot over a lifeless Hawks team in the first half, the Bucks were singed for 70 points and an avalanche of threes in the second half, blowing a 20-point halftime lead to end an encouraging homestand with a thud. Giannis Antetokounmpo played just 24 foul-plagued minutes and was off-kilter throughout the second half, finishing with just 14 points, six rebounds, one assist and six turnovers in what had to be his worst game of the season. After a 3/3 start, he (once again) played himself off the court with unnecessary fouls and missed seven of his final nine shots, including a rushed three in the final two minutes and a bad turnover with 29 seconds left.
Jabari Parker (27 points on 11/24 shooting) and Michael Beasley (14 on 6/7) picked up the usage slack in Antetokounmpo’s absence, but Parker was just 1/5 in the fourth quarter and Beasley also struggled with foul trouble, picking up his sixth foul early in the final stanza. On the other side, Paul Millsap worked the Bucks for a quietly brilliant 23 points, 14 boards and six assists, while Dennis Schröder torched Matthew Dellavedova for 33 on 19 shots — including 17 points in the first quarter.
The loss puts extra pressure on the Bucks to pull out a win Saturday night in Washington, especially with a trip to Toronto on tap Monday. The bad news? Milwaukee has been miserable on the second night of back-to-backs thus far, losing all three games and being outscored by an average of 16.3 points per game.
- Jabari is enjoying his extended run in first quarters lately. After 13 points in the last game, he had 10 in the first tonight.
- Giannis hit a deep catch and shoot three in the second quarter. It was pleasurable. Good times never last kids.
- Greg Monroe had a steal and dribbled for an uncontested dunk in transition. Monroe lumbering in the open court is a majestic rarity, though Monroe stealing the ball has been fairly common — he came into the game averaging a team-best 2.6 steals per 36 minutes.
- Milwaukee shot 57% in the first half, including 62% on three-pointers 8-13 on three pointers. They did not shoot as well in the second half (4-15).
- Milwaukee didn’t attempt its first free throw of the game until 8:34 in the third.
- Mirza Teletovic didn’t appear in his second straight game, but it didn’t affect Milwaukee’s ability to get threes up, as they shot 28 on the night, up from their season average of 24.7.
- Jabari Parker continues to empower the Bucks offense in transition. After grabbing a rebound and pushing the ball to the other end for an easy finish in the early going, he did the same thing a few minutes later, but this time drew the defense and dished it to Henson for a quick finish.
- Giannis and Jabari are both transition terrors, and the Bucks are doing their part to play to their budding stars’ strengths. They’re ranked second in the league in terms of how frequently they utilize transition plays, and they’re making those opportunities count with the fifth best points per possession mark.
- One of the Bucks’ prettier passing sequences this season started, amazingly, with Michael Beasley. As the shot clock wound down in the first quarter, he probed at the free throw line and threw a one-handed bounce pass to Monroe at the top of the restricted circle who teleported it to Jabari Parker, who streaked in like a meteor after his man left to help on Monroe. Easy finish, aesthetically pleasing.
- There was a telling sequence near the end of the second quarter for Milwaukee’s defense. Atlanta showed flashes of its previous balletic ball movement brilliance by whirling the ball all around the halfcourt before finding an open shooter in the opposite corner. Delly recovered quickly and got a hand-up, forcing the miss. Atlanta got the rebound, threw it to the perimeter and Milwaukee contested another open look to force a miss. It was a good summation of how their defense has gone so far this season. Here’s a TL;DR:
Gritty Bucks three-point defense forcing those two wide open misses from Sefolosha and Korver.— Brett Abramczyk (@BrettAbramczyk) December 10, 2016
- Michael Beasley has done this all year, but he has a very lethargic way of going about his business. Almost like a sloth. He knows he’s going to get to the basket, it’s just a matter of when he wants to. He did it a few times in the third when the Bucks offense was getting a little skittish and it has a surprisingly effective calming effect. After fouling out, he was given a standing ovation. I wonder how many of those he’s gotten in the last few years?
- Giannis tried a heat check three late in the fourth, with the Bucks up 106-105. This came after he decided to not attack Atlanta immediately in transition and he wound up only wasting a few more seconds after the ill-advised shot. It was a costly mistake, and Atlanta promptly scored on the other end to take back the lead.
- Milwaukee’s second half was a mix of frustration and apathy. Giannis picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, and played sparingly in the second half. He was disjointed all night, never able to get in a rhythm. The entire Bucks team looked lost in the second half, and their defensive rotations loosened from their tauter first half performance.
- There will probably be plenty of hand-wringing about this loss, and it will be warranted to some extent. Blowing a 20-point halftime lead to a struggling team isn’t something that a playoff-bound team does. That being said, this was by far Giannis’ worst game of the season, and this team’s surprising early success is directly tied to Giannis’ stellar play. He needs to remain on the court as much as possible if this team has any hope of making the playoffs, and he wasn’t able to do that tonight. Superstar accountability means outcomes will start to fall on his shoulders. He may have not been the one blowing coverage on defense tonight, but he also wasn’t there to keep the team afloat. That’s on him.