Last season, the Bucks and Jazz were the two best defensive teams after the All-Star Break. The Bucks have struggled on that end this season, but they regained their defensive form (with more than a little help from the Jazz) Friday night in holding the Jazz to just 84 points. Unfortunately, they were only able to score 81 points themselves as they fell in Utah.
At the start of the game, the Bucks tried to push the tempo. While both teams have played at a slow pace this season, the Bucks have had sporadic success in games which they've played at a fast pace and that is what they tried to do early in the game as they ran out to an 8-4 lead. That did not last long as the Jazz started to slow the game down. After one quarter, the Bucks led the Jazz 19-18.
The Bucks started the second quarter with a lineup of Tyler Ennis/Jerryd Bayless/Rashad Vaughn/Johnny O'Bryant/Miles Plumlee and scored 11 points in just three minutes to take a 30-25 lead. In that time, Bayless went 3-for-3 from three, which when added to the two threes he hit in the final three minutes of the first quarter, gave him 15 points on 5-for-5 three point shooting in roughly six minutes of game action. The Bucks' starters were able to hold the lead the bench had created for them in the second quarter and the Bucks went to halftime leading by four.
The start of the second half was ugly, but the Bucks were able to maintain their lead throughout the first nine minutes of the quarter, eventually leading 59-55 with 3:16 left in the third quarter. Turnovers and missed shots allowed the Jazz to finish the quarter on a 6-1 run and take a one point lead to the fourth quarter.
The Bucks were sloppy throughout the fourth quarter and eventually trailed 83-75 with 48 seconds remaining when Khris Middleton was able to draw a foul on a three point attempt. Middleton hit all three free throws and Raul Neto hit one of two free throws to put the Jazz up 84-78. The Bucks took a timeout to advance the ball up the floor and then ran a variation of THE PLAY (wiper action) that freed Middleton up for a three that cut the Bucks deficit to just three.
Quin Snyder took a timeout to move the ball to the frontcourt with 24 seconds left. The Jazz knew the Bucks would need to foul to keep their hopes alive, but the Bucks didn't foul. Instead, they trapped Derrick Favors and tossed the ball to Middleton. After the steal, Middleton brought the ball up the floor and looked for a three, but couldn't find one in the first ten seconds of the shot clock. Middleton gave the ball away only to get it back to create a three with only eight seconds left. Eventually, he forced up a three that was off to the right and ended the game with the Jazz beating the Bucks 84-81.
The Bucks leading scorer on the night was Middleton, who ended the game with 18 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists. Despite those numbers, the only stat that really mattered was his nine turnovers. Middleton was not sharp Friday night and committed careless turnovers again and again. While Bayless quickly put up 15 points in the first and second quarter, he failed to score again in the game. As a team, the Bucks had 20 turnovers and just couldn't manage to do anything right.
The Bucks have two more games before the All-Star Break and both of them will be at home. The first of the games is next Tuesday against the Boston Celtics. Tipoff at the BMO Harris Bradley Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST.
- O.J. Mayo has missed 11 straight games, but Jason Kidd expects him to be back for the Bucks game on Tuesday against the Celtics after seeing him go through shootaround Friday in Utah.
- John Henson was out again Friday night with a sore back against Utah, his fifth straight missed game.
- As the Bucks have often done this season at the start of quarters, they ran a play for Jabari Parker. This time, it was a 4-1 pick and roll with Michael Carter-Williams as the screener. Parker missed a pull-up jumper that the screen opened up.
- Antetokounmpo and Parker each picked up their second fouls early in the first quarter.
- Miles Plumlee had two monster dunks Friday night. To the Bucks' credit, they regularly put him into pick and roll action when he is in the game, which often creates a lob opportunity.
- Plumlee was thrown out of the game with a minute and a half left in the third quarter for a forearm to the back of Joe Ingles' head.
- The Jazz were 8-for-27 from the three point line.
- After a 4-for-9 performance from the free throw line in Portland, Antetokounmpo hit his first five attempts Friday night before missing his last three, including a pair of crucial free throws in the final two minutes. Visibly frustrated, he then compounded the error by over-dribbling before missing another shot on the following possession.
- I'm told both teams were playing basketball tonight, but I don't believe it.
- Some interesting stylistic differences in play tonight. The Jazz play very slowly, but move the ball a lot. The Bucks have been playing slowly this year and not moving the ball nearly as much as last year. It looked as though the Bucks were trying to push the tempo as much as possible tonight and saw some success with it in the first quarter.
- I vividly remember mentioning this last season when Brandon Knight was still around and somehow it has yet to improve. The Bucks fastbreak spacing is atrocious. Just five guys running tight lanes on top of each other in the hopes of getting a layup. There is no layering of cuts. Players are rarely stopping at the three point line. It's awful.
- There were three or four Jazz outlet passes in the first half that made me think a whistle had been blown before the pass was thrown. They were that bad.
- Watching Michael Carter-Williams in a fastbreak just makes me sad. He so desperately wants to make the right decision and he even does sometimes, but a lot of the time he sees the pass he should make half a second after he should have seen it. Then, he tries as hard as he can to dribble to a place on the floor that will get the guy open that he just missed on the fastbreak. It often ends poorly for him and the team.
- As much as people want to criticize Kidd (and from the looks of recent comment sections, it is A LOT), Jabari Parker played almost the entire fourth quarter despite making mistake after mistake on defense. There is no doubt that they are willing to let Parker get some reps. Unfortunately Parker didn't add anything offensively either, going scoreless in the first half for the second straight game and making just one out of six shots -- a follow-up slam after he had found Miles Plumlee inside for a look.
- Middleton has obviously been struggling as of late and part of me wonders if Henson's absence as something to do with it. When I wrote about Middleton's evolution as a playmaker a few weeks ago, a number of the clips I used ended with Henson finishing the play. They seemed to be building a real rapport together, which seemed to make creating a little easier for Middleton.
- Though Plumlee might not be Henson defensively, Plumlee has been a lot of fun to watch offensively. He really does a nice job actively attacking the rim and his fluidity of movement just seems to help everything flow so much better on offense.
- Parker and Antetokounmpo had early foul trouble tonight, which effectively disrupted their flow early in the game, but I don't know how much they would have been able to get going if they had played the game with no fouls. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert were just sitting and waiting for Bucks at the rim tonight and eventually swatted a combined eight shots on the night.
- Giannis slithered to the hoop for pretty finishes on his first three attempts, but made just one of his last five shots -- ironically a clutch three from the right corner after Gordon Hayward had buried a three moments earlier.