For 47 minutes on Monday, the Milwaukee Bucks looked like they were the team in a dogfight for the final playoff spot. In the final minute the Detroit Pistons reminded them they're not.
Despite leading by as many as 17 in the first half and controlling the game throughout, the Bucks let an elusive road win slip through their fingers on Monday night in Detroit, as Jerryd Bayless missed two late free throws to clear the way for Andre Drummond's game-winning tip-in with 2.1 seconds remaining. Marcus Morris barely missed all night (21 points on nine shots) and Drummond offered up a typical-for-him 14 points and 16 rebounds, spoiling another Giannis Antetokounmpo all-around gem (21 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two blocks, zero turnovers) as well as strong performances from former Pistons Greg Monroe (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Khris Middleton (27 points on 11/16 shooting).
The win allows Detroit to keep pace with the eighth seeded Bulls in the East, while the loss sees Milwaukee stay within a half game of Orlando for the tenth spot in the lottery standings. Not the worst result for the Bucks, but on paper this was a game you'd have expected the Bucks to win: they hit 54% of their shots and half of their 10 three point attempts, in addition to edging the Pistons on the board 40-39. Entering the night, Detroit had won just four out of 25 games in which they were outrebounded, but Drummond's final rebound ultimately proved too much for the Bucks to overcome.
After the Bucks had burned their final two timeouts advancing the ball, Bayless choked on two straight free throw attempts before Drummond got inside Antetokounmpo to tip home an off-balance three point attempt from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Without a timeout, the Bucks tried to quickly inbound to Middleton, but he only had time for a halfcourt heave that predictably wasn't close. In hindsight the Bucks had a good argument that the tip should have never happened, as Tobias Harris clearly took a couple steps sideways in order to inbound the ball. Then again: they never should have let themselves get in that position in the first place either.
The Bucks started brightly thanks to a combination of Antetokounmpo's usual two-way wizardry and Monroe's strong play inside, leading to an impressive 30-17 lead after one. Milwaukee showed good patience working the ball around the perimeter and then repeatedly inside to Monroe, who used his usual array of ball fakes and up-and-unders to score a dozen first quarter points. Antetokounmpo added six, four assists and five rebounds, including another sensational end-to-end slam:
Giannis with his daily coast-to-coast ball-fake-and-dunk highlight. YAWN. https://t.co/OMnPFo8ITh— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 21, 2016
The Bucks' reserves -- once again featuring the Plumlee-Henson big man combo -- soon extended the lead to 36-19 early in the second, but the Pistons quickly used the long ball to get back into it. Anthony Tolliver (twice), Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris (plus a foul on Jabari) each hit threes from the right wing to key a 20-3 run, though the Bucks stabilized once their starters returned and led 48-45 at the intermission.
The third quarter saw Antetokounmpo dominate once again, flashing his full arsenal of tricks en route to a 9-point Bucks lead through three. But the Bucks' all-reserve lineup (predictably) couldn't take advantage of some early fourth quarter bobbles from Detroit, and Milwaukee's offense bogged down behind a steady diet of Bayless and Middleton in the final minutes.
- Frank Madden
- Jabari Parker (2/7 fg, 5 pts, 6 rebs, 2 blk) hit an early corner three but didn't score in the second half and was held to single digits for the second time in three games. He did sneak up on Drummond for a pair of impressive blocks -- including one with 47 seconds left -- but overall he was a peripheral figure for most of the night.
- Antetokounmpo, Parker and Monroe combined for zero free throw attempts. Parker has attempted three or fewer free throws in five straight games.
- In the first quarter, Greg Monroe sprinted a lane on the left side of the court of a Antetokounmpo-led fastbreak and laid it in while sprinting full speed.
- Tyler Ennis, Jared Cunningham, Damien Inglis, Miles Plumlee, and John Henson played just over three minutes in the second quarter. They also played the first four minutes of the fourth quarter.
- Antetokounmpo took two catch-and-shoot above the break threes from nearly identical spots in the third quarter. He hit the first one and missed the second, marking the first time he's hit a three since February 11.
- The Bucks also used a Bayless/Cunningham/Inglis/Plumlee/Henson lineup for a minute in the fourth quarter, as well as a Bayless/Parker/Antetokounmpo/Plumlee/Henson lineup for two and a half minutes.
- Cunningham made his first basket as a Buck, but also airmailed a corner three for the second time in as many games. His -17 differential tied him with Henson for the worst mark on the team.
- Antetokounmpo was forced to take a few shots in the awkward in-between area that is neither a layup or a midrange jumper, and tonight he got a number of them to go down. He has started to become more effective in those areas recently with a number of pretty floaters off glass.
- There was a first quarter possession in which Jerryd Bayless saw a Pistons guard matched on Parker in the post and told Parker to get on the block and take advantage. Parker called him off and told him to swing the ball. It was strange.
- Middleton's handle has improved so much in just a single season. His development is something that has now been pushed down the page with Antetokounmpo's rise after the All-Star Break, but still remains impressive.
- Near the end of the first quarter, Parker assisted on two Monroe baskets in a relatively short amount of time. On both plays, Parker did something we haven't seen very often this season. He made an aggressive cut to the free throw line area while Monroe participated in a pick and roll. Often, he will just stand on the back side of the action. Almost immediately after catching the ball, Parker delivered an on-target pass to Monroe, who scored on both possessions.
- Sometimes, there is nothing you can do, but shake your head when Antetokounmpo makes a play. John Henson seems to agree.
John Henson doesn't understand what Giannis just did. Neither do we. https://t.co/IOFzhFXCGv— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 22, 2016
- Jason Kidd has abruptly changed his rotations. For a while now, Kidd has prioritized staggering one of his talented offensive creators (Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Monroe, or Parker) with bench-heavy lineups. In each of the last three games, he has featured lineups without one of those four players on the floor. My two working theories are 1) Someone has talked to Kidd and told him the Big 3 need to have their minutes limited or 2) The Bucks are trying to figure out whether or not they should keep around a number of their bench players. Or both.
- Pairing Henson and Plumlee has meant Henson is suddenly spending much of his time away from the hoop on both ends, which goes a long way towards explaining his one rebound, one block and -17 differential in 14 minutes. Kidd has spent the better part of two years avoiding big lineups likely for that very reason, though there's also little room to play all three of his big men without overlapping them for long stretches.
- A week ago, Jeremy Schmidt wrote about the Bucks' over-reliance on Middleton late in games this season. Middleton ended each of the Bucks' final five possessions in Monday's game. The results remained underwhelming, though he did score five points in that span (one driving three point play and a step-back long two).
- Despite the lack of creativity in calling Middleton's number, the Bucks did come up with a new way to get him involved with this gorgeous triple screen set, which got Middleton open on the Bucks' final possession. (Middleton froze himself out before eventually taking a tough shot off of the dribble, which he made...but still, the set was exciting.)