Clutch performances haven’t been the Bucks’ forte this year, so it’s only natural they would come through against a top-two defense in San Antonio for a 109-107 win. In an ironic twist of fate, Manu Ginobli clanked a wide-open, game-winning three-pointer on the final play merely weeks after Mirza Teletovic missed a similar shot from the opposite corner against the Spurs for a potential Bucks win. Behind a season-high 28 points from Michael Beasley, Milwaukee prevailed for the first time in San Antonio since 2008.
Michael Beasley was the story all night long for the Bucks, as Giannis played merely nine minutes in the first half before sitting out the second with lingering issues from his illness. Beasley stepped into his box-score stuffing shoes nicely, with 28 points, five boards, four assists, three blocks and two steals, all while taking on a heavy offensive burden in the third and fourth quarters. Jabari played marvelously despite struggling with foul issues in the second half, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Malcolm Brogdon added 17 points, six rebounds and six assists, but more importantly, four of those points came with the Bucks down 107-105 in the fourth. Greg Monroe added 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Thon even made an extensive appearance, with five points in a season-high 13 minutes.
San Antonio was led by Kawhi Leonard with 30 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and three steals plus three blocks. Tony Parker, Danny Green and Jonathan Simmons all added 14 points each, with Davis Bertans contributing 11.
Milwaukee looked overmatched early on, with Jabari, Beasley and Brogdon as the lone offensive weapons. They battled to make it close at halftime, and Michael Beasley exploded in the second half with 22 points. San Antonio zipped the ball through Milwaukee’s defense, and despite a decent amount of good looks from deep, the Spurs shot merely 40% from three on 12-30 shooting, the third-most three-point attempts they’ve had all year. Milwaukee was scorching all night, finishing at 52% overall and 53% from deep, albeit on merely 10-19 shooting on threes.
They managed to outscore the Spurs in the paint, 30-12 in the second half, primarily behind Beasley’s frequent outings down low. As the game clenched down the stretch, Beasley provided the full Beasperience with a drive and kick to Brogdon for the go-ahead three-pointer, followed by an atrocious long two that would’ve put Milwaukee up three with 30 seconds to go, and then helping too judiciously off an inbound pass that allowed Davis Bertans an open look at a three. His performance won the Bucks this game though, and even provided a positive clutch period for once, even in the absence of the Bucks’ best player.
Milwaukee struggled to start the game, with their only offense coming from Jabari, who scored the team’s first seven points including a pull-up three over David Lee. San Antonio looked spry despite the absence of Lamarcus Aldridge, as they leaped to a 15-7 lead at the first break after Tony Parker slithered past Malcolm Brogdon for a lay-in. The Bucks worked back into it slowly, as the bench mob started getting easy buckets at the rim against San Antonio’s backup frontline. San Antonio scored multiple times off their stereotypical ball movement and easy threes, but Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley worked it down low to combine for ten in the quarter. The period ended tied at 23, with Jabari already in double figures with 11 points.
San Antonio went on a 10-0 run early in the second, extending their lead to 36-25 as Kawhi Leonard got a four-point play off an absent-minded Teletovic foul. Then, Leonard started stroking midrange pull-ups like it was shootaround. Milwaukee countered with a surprise Thon appearance, with Jason Kidd trying out a Giannis-Thon-Henson frontline for a few minutes. It didn’t have any appreciable effect until Giannis came out for Jabari, who promptly swished a corner three against Kawhi Leonard to cut the lead to 41-33.
Despite a three and a dunk from Thon Maker, Milwaukee struggled stopping the Spurs’ perimeter shooters and Tony Parker, whose creaky knees sliced the Bucks defense before his free throw jumper the Spurs back up convincingly, 55-42. Malcolm Brogdon got to the rim as the half wound down, and with no contortion act booked for halftime, Jabari gave the crowd a twisting finish to tide them over.
Milwaukee went in only trailing 59-53, despite Giannis being nonexistent during his brief time on the court. Jabari Parker had 16 points, Malcolm Brogdon added 10 and Greg Monroe posted six points and eight rebounds. For San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard led with 16 points, Tony Parker contributed 10 and the ageless thorn-in-their-side Pau Gasol had eight points and seven rebounds. Both teams finished at 49% on the half, while both teams shot well from deep with Milwaukee at 5-9 (56%) and San Antonio at 7-13 (54%).
Giannis didn’t appear to start the second half, with Michael Beasley taking his place. The Spurs extended their lead to nine, but Jabari Parker started a Bucks run with a behind-the-back pass to Tony Snell for a three-pointer. San Antonio responded to make it 71-62, but Jabari finished with a jam and another swirling, adjusted finish to cut it to a five point game halfway through the third.
Parker had another dish to Snell later after a missed alley-oop, but picked up his fourth foul late in the third and had to leave the game. Michael Beasley supported the Bucks’ waylaid offense in the meantime, fighting his way down low at ease against Spurs defenders. San Antonio continued to hurt the Bucks on drive-and-kicks, but Beasley’s 12-point quarter made it 89-83 at the end of three.
Beasley continued his blazing night, with a jab-step jumper and isolation finish over Davis Bertans as Milwaukee got within one at 93-92. The scoring slowed for a bit, but Kawhi Leonard managed to keep hitting difficult shots against Bucks defenders as the Spurs led 100-94. After Monroe laid it in off a Beas feed, Brogdon nailed a triple to cut it down to a one-point game. Beasley kept it running with a hula-hoop finish, and Jabari took it down soon after for a lay-in to vault Milwaukee ahead by two points. The Bucks brief lead flamed out, with San Antonio hitting back-to-back threes to re-take the lead 107-105.
Then, something magical happened. The Bucks offense didn’t turn into a rotted pumpkin during clutch time, and Malcolm Brogdon hit a corner three off a Beasley pass to go back up 108-107. After a Bertans missed three, Brogdon hit just one of two from the line, giving San Antonio a chance with six seconds left. Kawhi Leonard dribbled into the teeth of the defense, passing up a chance to tie for an open Manu Ginobli three-pointer...that clanged off the side of the backboard. Bucks win, 109-107.
- Giannis played tonight, but only wound up finishing with nine minutes for the night after brief spurts at the start of the first and second quarters. He was basically a non-factor while on the court, finishing with no points, two rebounds, two assists and a block. It was pretty clear he wouldn’t have it tonight, and the Bucks wisely rested him for the second half. Props to Giannis for fighting through it, but it may’ve just been easier to give him the night off altogether.
- Jabari Parker had a transition opportunity in the first quarter where it was just him and Kawhi Leonard at the rim. Instead of even attempting to attack Kawhoctopus, Jabari pulled it out quickly and found Beasley for a transition three. His passive approach speaks not only to the terror Kawhi induces, but some of the patience Jabari’s learned as he tries to become a more feasible facilitator this year.
- Kawhi Leonard is a fascinating offensive player. Unlike fireballing superstars like Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, he seems committed to shooting midrange shots. He hits them at a very competent clip too, 46%, but when I saw him hitting them I couldn’t help but think of several weeks back when Giannis dribbled in to take an elbow jumper near the start of a game. The telecast mentioned how Jason Kidd told Giannis in practice he could get that shot anytime he wanted. Everyone knows the midrange shot is inefficient, but I’ll be curious to see how Giannis includes it in his repertoire going forward if he’s able to hit it more consistently.
- Thon Maker’s first extended run in some time wound up as more a reinforcement of what we already knew about him. He ran the floor well, getting a transition dunk from Jabari and cutting to the rim to open up a passing lane for a three-point shooter in the corner. He also feels very comfortable jacking it from distance, as he lasered one in during his stint. However, the usual concerns about strength remained as a Pau Gasol backdown made Thon look like Paper Mario. Additionally, he skied for a block at the same time as Henson, leaving his man David Lee wide open for an offensive rebound if the shot hadn’t gone in. His thin frame also affects his ability to set strong screens, as Jonathan Simmons shoved him aside like an origami crane when fighting through a second half screen. Nothing revelatory, but at least the Bucks were even with him on the court tonight.
- Michael Beasley played exceptionally tonight. With no Giannis, and Jabari forced to leave with foul trouble, Beasley simply attacked Spurs defenders in isolation time and again. His midranger was falling tonight, which always makes his play seem elevated, but he was finishing contested shots at the rim regularly. When he’s flowing, he operates with such an ease it’s obvious why he was considered such a natural scorer coming out of college. His isolation numbers this year are abjectly terrible, he’s in the 19th percentile on isolation scoring efficiency, but Beasley’s proficiency tonight illustrates his optimum usefulness.
- The Bucks’ defensive rotations were particularly impressive given the Spurs’ penchant for ball penetration and ball movement is precisely the type of scheme that should theoretically carve up this Milwaukee team. Instead, Bucks’ defenders were scrambling on a string all night, shoring up passing lanes and contesting perimeter shots whenever possible. There were certainly lapses, and the Bucks bit too much on pump-fakes at points, but it was a quality, concerted effort for a good chunk of the game.
- Jabari Parker was less of a factor in the latter stages of the second half, particularly after he picked up his fourth foul and was forced to sit on the bench, but his offensive performance tonight felt mature. He showed an uncanny knack for using his hesitation dribble against bigger Spurs’ defenders, and even Kawhi struggled against him in the first half. He found Bucks’ players with ease on a few assists, feasting on the chaos of transition or a missed alley-oop to find the right player before the defense could properly adapt. All positive signs.
- Milwaukee just beat one of the league’s top-five teams on their home court with their best player effectively not playing. More than anything, it felt important that Jabari was a plus-10 on the night, which included getting roasted during the first few minutes while sharing the court with Giannis, who was a team-worst negative-15 tonight. Playing winning ball is the next step for Jabari, and against one of the league’s premier defenders, he wound up as a net positive for his team on the night.