In the grand scheme of the basketball universe, we know that Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton are the guys the Bucks should be building around. Thursday night offered a nice reminder why.
Middleton returned to form with 27 points, nine assists, five steals and a series of clutch plays down the stretch in the Bucks' 99-92 win over the Washington Wizards at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, but thankfully he didn't have to do it alone. Antetokounmpo (17 points, 13 rebs) and Parker (17 points, 9 rebs, 4 ast) proved worthy wingmen, and the Bucks' defense held Washington to 39% shooting to propel Jason Kidd's club to their second win in as many games heading into the all-star break.
Video Report: Middleton talks about all-around performance vs. Wiz
It was hardly the Bucks' best performance, and it was a game they should have won against a Wizards team that reminded us why they've suffered through a disappointing season. Five Wizards scored between 14 and 19 points, but Nene (4/8 fg, 12 points) and Marcin Gortat (7/13, 14 pts) was the only ones to shoot better than 40% on a night that saw Washington miss 26 of 32 three pointers and John Wall offset his 10 assists with seven turnovers and a difficult 5/19 shooting night. I wouldn't go so far as to call it the return of the Bucks' defense, but they kept the Wiz honest over the final three quarters, giving the Bucks some good vibrations heading into the all-star break while avoiding a season sweep at the hands of the similarly disappointing Wiz (23-28).
The Bucks' revised starting five started slowly for the second time in as many games, as the Wiz led by as many as 10 in a first quarter, shooting 57% overall and scoring 16 points in the paint. But the Bucks' aggressiveness eventually started to pay dividends, as they drew 10 Wizard fouls in a 37-19 second quarter that saw Milwaukee take a 55-46 lead to the intermission. Jabari got loose repeatedly in transition and scored 13 in the half, putting a proper exclamation point on things thanks to an unselfish dump off from Giannis:
Giannis! Jabari! Feelings of great joy! https://t.co/7vRJrqheiSâ Frank Madden (@brewhoop) February 12, 2016
The third quarter proved more like the first, however: the Bucks turned it over seven times and were outscored 24-14, staking Washington to a 70-69 lead going into the decisive stanza.
Fortunately for Milwaukee, Middleton's best was yet to come. Frustrated with a phantom foul call that eventually led to a Wall three, Middleton responded with five quick points, first by fighting for a putback and foul, then by gliding to the hoop for a layup to give the Bucks a 77-75 lead. A few minutes later he buried a straightaway three to break another tie, and then sealed the game in the final minute with two clutch plays. First he put on a tricky dribbling exhibition to get into the lane for a short jumper to make it 95-90, and one possession later he probed and found Monroe for a layup to make 97-90 with 14 seconds remaining.
While they remain stuck in 13th in the East, the win does give the Bucks something to feel good about as they head into the extended all-star break. They now have eight days off until they return to the BC to take on the eighth seeded Hornets on February 19, though Jabari (Rising Stars Challenge) and Khris (Three Point Shootout) will first travel to Toronto for this weekend's all-star festivities.
- Frank Madden
- Middleton hit 9/17 shots tonight, the first time in seven games that he shot better than 38% from the floor.
- John Wall went down early in the game tonight and appeared to be limping, but he played through the injury and tortured the Bucks for most of the third quarter.
- It's rare to see Greg Monroe get pushed around. Nene forcefully moved him out of the way following an offensive rebound early in the second quarter and generally did a terrific job denying entry passes for much of the night.
- Antetokounmpo took two catch-and-shoot corner threes. He hit the first, but missed the second. He also thumped two more jumpers from the extended elbow area, something we've seen with disappointing regularity this season.
- I have no idea what it gets recorded as in the scorebook, but Antetokounmpo blocked an attempted alley-oop from Dudley to Wall.
- The Wizards were 6-of-32 from the three point line.
- I've mentioned it a couple different places now, but it's exciting to see Parker make next-level passes and I think he's done that more often recently. Tonight, he had one to Antetokounmpo in the first quarter.
- I've also noted that Parker has done much of his damage in the first half of games and in transition. The next step is making a difference in the second half and he did that a bit tonight. If there's one thing I will be watching after the All-Star Break regarding Parker's improvement, it will be his play in the second half of games. It seems head coach Jason Kidd will also be looking for the same thing. Before the game, Kidd said, "I think as Jabari gets more minutes and, again being a rookie, he's going to (start to) understand how to get his points in the second half. After the break, we can all reflect on how we can get better and I think that'll be one of the points he gets better. Not just the first half, but the second half too."
- It's been interesting to watch the Celtics and Wizards play the Bucks back-to-back because both teams don't have the best three point shooters, but continue to chuck up threes the entire game. Obviously, this is not an approach the Bucks employ, but seeing mediocre shooters on both teams continually shoot threes generated a startling contrast to Bucks basketball.
- There have been multiple times in each of the last two games that the Bucks have tipped a pass or knocked the ball loose from an opponent, but been unable to secure the steal. This is anecdotal, but it seems to me that those "loose" balls turned into steals more often last season.
- This was the second straight game that Middleton took over in the second half. The offense flowed through Middleton so much in the fourth quarter that at one point, the Bucks ran the exact same play for Middleton to come off a screen and get a touch on the left wing. Middleton finished with 18 second half points, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter.
- When Middleton gets rolling late in games, his passing has been just as important as his scoring. There were a couple times where the Wizards thought that they had everything covered only to have Parker or Antetokounmpo swoop into some open space and find an open shot. Those two are great cutters, but Middleton's vision has made those cuts actually matter.
- Parker hit a right baseline jumper with 2:32 left in the fourth quarter that put the Bucks up 93-87. It wasn't a game-winner and it wasn't a shot that started a run, but it could be huge for Parker and his confidence. The NBA defines clutch "time" as game situations in which the deficit is five or less points and there is five minutes or less remaining in the game. That jumper was the first "clutch" shot Parker has made this season.
- Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams didn't have the same spark off the bench that we saw on Tuesday, as both struggled to make an impact consistently. MCW started aggressively in the first half, scoring inside once and drawing two fouls. But he wasn't effective in the second half, settling for a pair of long twos before Kidd opted to go with Mayo and Jerryd Bayless down the stretch.
- Speaking of Mayo, he struggled with foul trouble for the second time in as many nights, but he did finally hit his first shot since returning from an 11-game absence -- a tough (and much-needed) leaner in the fourth quarter.