Monday night began as a celebration of Kobe Bryant's historic career. It ended as a celebration of Giannis Antetokounmpo's bright future.
Playing in front of a packed house for Bryant's last game in Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo recorded his first career triple-double (27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, four blocks, three steals) as the Bucks obliterated the hapless Lakers in transition and cruised to a more-comfortable-than-the-score-implies 108-101 win. Running the point for much of the night, Giannis was the unstoppable fulcrum of a Bucks attack that piled up 32 fast break points (!), dished out 32 assists and outscored the Lakers by an absurd 58-22 margin in the paint. If anything, if almost looked too easy for Giannis, as he effortlessly sliced his way through the Lakers in transition for dunks and perfectly placed passes.
Overall, seven Bucks scored in double-digits as Milwaukee shot 51% from the field and turned it over just nine times. Jabari Parker cooled down a little from his Friday/Saturday domination, but he added a respectable 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists, Miles Plumlee was dunking everything in sight (7/7 shooting, 14 points), and Khris Middleton added 18 points and six assists.
Bryant struggled from the field (3/12) in scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first half, but a big Bucks run in the third quarter blew the game wide open. Milwaukee led by 25 heading into the final period, and only a late flurry of threes from Nick Young (19 points) made the final score look respectable. Still, the final stanza was mostly a formality as the Bucks seemed more preoccupied with getting Giannis his triple-double than playing their regular game.
The Bucks seemed to feed off the atmosphere early, showing good energy defensively and repeatedly beating the Lakers' shoddy transition defense for dunks -- most notably unmolested rim runs by Miles Plumlee and Giannis.
Great pass from MCW to Giannis in transition. This is how you take it to LA. https://t.co/gfDFQTVaVg— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) February 23, 2016
Antetokounmpo was particularly problematic, working his way through the heart of the Laker defense for 12 first quarter points, while MCW and Giannis both found Plumlee repeatedly for easy buckets around the rim. Meanwhile, Parker looked trigger-happy from midrange early on, hitting a midranger on the game's first possession but subsequently missing his next four from similar range. He came around in the second quarter, however, stroking another midranger before finding room from (where else?) the right baseline for a pair of finishes at the rim.
Still, the Lakers stuck around. While the Bucks held L.A. to just 33% shooting on two-pointers, Jordan Clarkson hit 4/5 from deep and kept the Lakers in it with a string of 13 straight L.A. points. D'Angelo Russell's three in the final seconds of the half trimmed the Bucks' edge to just 54-50 at half, but the Lakers' competitiveness wouldn't last much longer. Antetokounmpo's 10 third quarter points powered the Bucks to a 36-17 advantage in the period, as the Bucks put together perhaps the 12 most entertaining minutes of the season with a flurry of steals and fast break dunks. Terrific passes from Middleton and Antetokounmpo set up back-to-back corner threes from O.J. Mayo to make it 70-53, and that's when things really got fun:
1. Take a dribble 2. GET OUTS THE WAY https://t.co/sxm3Y7788A— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) February 23, 2016
O.J. *always* looks to get Jabari and Giannis dunks on the break. Love me some Uncle Juice. https://t.co/faPWm5pPyw— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) February 23, 2016
On Khris-to-Giannis oop, you can see Bass give Giannis a shove as he takes off. Really dangerous...shades of Bogut. https://t.co/FtDBSsjzZ1— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) February 23, 2016
Jumpers by Jabari and MCW clinched Antetokounmpo's triple-double with two minutes left, opening the door for the newly-signed Steve Novak to sneak in his Bucks debut in front of family and friends form Brown Deer. Antetokounmpo nearly picked up an 11th assist on a handoff to Novak at the top of the key, but the NBA's sixth best three point shooter of all time couldn't get his first shot as Buck to fall. Hey, not everything can go right.
Once the final buzzer sounded, Bryant waved to the crowd and then pointed at the game's real star, giving Giannis a long hug before saying the rest of his goodbyes -- a moment Giannis won't soon forget, on a night we'll remember as the best of Giannis' young career.
- Frank Madden
- The first Kobe chant occurred at 7:07, immediately following the Jason Kidd-narrated tribute video to Bryant and immediately before the Bucks' intros. The second one broke out with 4:24 left in the game and the final one came as the game came to a close.
- Before the game, Byron Scott talked about his young players needing to earn their playing time and opportunities. I think his handling of the Lakers young guys serves as an interesting reference point when thinking about the opportunities Parker and Antetokounmpo have received under Jason Kidd. Both of them are former players, who seem to believe that young guys need to earn their keep and shouldn't just be handed opportunities. While Scott's beliefs have led to limited minutes and constant public shaming of his young guys, Kidd hasn't been shy about giving the two young Bucks plenty of playing time, but has limited some of the things they can do on the floor.
- During the first six minutes of the game with the starters, Antetokounmpo brought the ball up the floor and served as the Bucks' point guard on every possession. He's brought it up before on misses and has done so more lately, but this is the first time in a while that I can remember him actually serving as the Bucks point guard in every conceivable way.
- Apparently, Point Giannis is again going to be a thing. After the game, Jason Kidd said:
"Giannis is playing at a very high level right now. After the break, we've made some changes, we've kind of given him the ball as the point guard. We haven't announced that he's the point guard, but we're letting him start the offense. On misses, we're trying to get the ball to him as quick as possible and have everybody else run. And he's made some incredible passes. The bounce pass to Jabari. The halfcourt pass [to Mayo], that was one of the best I've seen. And I think it just becomes contagious with everyone passing the ball. We've got the ball moving right now. Khris throwing it off the glass. Guys are moving the ball. It's fun to watch. They're all making the right play. It's a little bit different than the first half of the season where the ball was sticking and we weren't getting multiple touches. But it's nice to see the improvement and the triple-double from Giannis."
- Defenses really respect Rashad Vaughn's jumper and I'm not really sure why. (He's shooting just 31.7% from three.) Despite the questionable tactic, Vaughn has taken advantage recently with a few nice pump fakes to create for himself and teammates. Unfortunately, as the game went on, he became a little bit too enamored with his passing and made some poor decisions trying to be a creator.
- John Henson's injury seems to be making the Bucks' summer considerably more interesting. Obviously, a number of Greg Monroe trade rumors popped up both before and after the trade deadline, which puts his stay in Milwaukee in question. Plumlee has played very well in Henson's absence, but his contract with the Bucks is up at the end of the season. He's only a restricted free agent, but the Bucks will have to figure out what his value is. And Henson, of course, remains an anomaly. Should make for some tough decisions for the Bucks this summer.
- Sometimes, Antetokounmpo makes things look so incredibly easy, like his Statue of Liberty dunk in the third quarter.
- The third quarter was the Bucks' most Vine-able quarter of the season. To name a few of the highlights: a sweet Giannis bounce pass to Jabari, a behind-the-back pass from Mayo to Parker, a monster one-handed dunk from Plumlee, a one-handed crosscourt pass from Giannis to Mayo for a corner three, Giannis Statue of Liberty, and Middleton's off the glass alley-oop to Giannis.
- This game was a laugher until Nick Young almost had a moment. He ended the quarter with 16 points, but there was a one minute sequence where he hit three straight threes, but the third one, which would have cut the Bucks lead to ten, was taken off the board as he stepped out of bounds before shooting it. Related: this is probably the last year visiting fans randomly go crazy for Nick Young hot streaks.
- I have no idea how Bryant puts up with this insane farewell tour. Throughout the game, he has insane fans requesting autographs, showing off their signs, and generally just acting foolish. He has a cameraman and boom mic operator hovering over him at every single timeout. He has an insanely large media contingent to deal with after every game. He has every college basketball team in the respective city looking for pictures and autographs. (Apparently, teams are forced to pick representatives that get a picture and autograph.) It is a full-on circus.
- Eric Nehm