A perplexing Bucks season only added to its confusing legacy tonight, snapping a five-game losing streak with an offensive explosion in a 127-114 against Houston. Milwaukee shook up its starting lineup, inserting Miles Plumlee for John Henson, giving Plumlee his first start since November 25th against the Raptors.
The change paid dividends, with Plumlee slamming home a number of lobs and finishes in close, but this game really came down to Giannis and Jabari matching Houston at every turn while the role players played competently for the first time in a while. Houston kept up with Milwaukee’s nuclear 68% shooting in the first half, and pulled it even in the fourth before bumbling the ball repeatedly, as Jason Terry hit several big shots and led a string of four Milwaukee steals that turned into points on the other end that gave Milwaukee a comfortable cushion to help them hang on for the victory.
Giannis finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four blocks, but Jabari Parker looked every bit his equal tonight despite only eight second-half points, ending the night with 28 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block. Matthew Dellavedova added 16 points and seven assists while Greg Monroe put up 17 points, ten rebounds and three assists.
For Houston, James Harden got 26 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists and four steals (fairly typical stuff...) and the returning Ryan Anderson managed 12 points. The Rockets’ big men, Clint Capela and Nene Hilario, ate up the Bucks’ interior defense on pick and rolls all night, finishing with 16 and 17 points respectively.
Houston couldn’t keep up with the Bucks’ 58.8% shooting on the night, including 47.8% (11-23) from deep, as the Rockets shot only 50.6% overall. Milwaukee held them below their three-point attempt average for the season though, only allowing 14-35 shooting after 44 attempts from Houston last week.
Milwaukee finished with a quite poor 19 turnovers on the night, but Houston was particularly egregious with the ball, firing weak passes directly into the hands of Bucks’ defenders for 22 turnovers. That was most acute in the fourth quarter, when Milwaukee had eight steals, six of those coming in key, non-garbage time minutes. Those ill-fated passes led to 34 points for Milwaukee, nearly 11 more than Houston scored off the Bucks’ turnovers tonight.
Defense was optional to start, with both teams splashing from behind the arc and getting to the rim whenever they like. Miles Plumlee provided a jolt, slamming home a one-handed jam off a Jabari pass, but the Rockets pick and roll devastated the Bucks defense with easy passes and open looks from outside. Milwaukee’s offense maintained a pace it hasn’t of late, with Jabari and Giannis pushing in transition to make it 20-18 after a couple of Giannis free throws midway through the first. Milwaukee kept pushing the ball for quick shots, with Jabari finding Monroe for a transition layup and then Snell hitting a three before the Rockets’ D could get set, making it 29-21.
Houston rocketed back into the game as the quarter closed, going on a 12-4 run that ended with another easy Nene bucket rolling to the rim and Harden finish that psyched Bari out of his sneakers. The quarter ended tied at 33, with Jabari the high man at 11 points.
Giannis opened the second with six straight points, followed by a cutting Mirza Teletovic who slipped behind Sam Dekker for an easy layup (somewhere, you can almost hear Bo Ryan reflexively yelling on his sofa to bench Dekker). Milwaukee’s lead expanded to 50-35 after a Jason Terry three, before Harden returned and helped orchestrate Houston back within 54-45. Jabari Parker returned from his respite to continue his dominating play, shimmying his way to the rim or finding Plumlee at the hoop before hitting two free throws to make it 62-50. Houston (read: Harden) propelled Houston back, hitting two nonchalant deep pull-up threes as Houston trailed only 68-64 at the half.
Jabari posted 20 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in his best stretch of basketball for some time, with Giannis rattling in an efficient 17 points on 6-9 shooting. Greg Monroe added eight points as Milwaukee shot a blistering 68.3% on the half.
James Harden led Houston with a typical 19 points and seven assists, while the freshly returned Ryan Anderson had 13 points despite only going 3-5 from three. Houston shot 52.4% on the half, including 8-19 (42.1%) from deep. Milwaukee found its advantage in fast break points, doubling up Houston with 16, and managing 17 points off of 11 Houston turnovers. Of course, Milwaukee had 13 sloppy turnovers of their own, providing Houston with 15 points.
Milwaukee hit several difficult shots to start the second half, Jabari with a pull-up midranger and Giannis with a fading leaner in the lane, but Houston pulled within one at 77-76 after Patrick Beverly hit his third shot of the half in just over three minutes. Houston regained the lead for the first time since it was 18-15, but Giannis responded with a pull-up three to get it to 80-78. Both teams continued their shot-making duel, with James Harden orchestrating shots out of the pick and roll and Milwaukee finding success in the paint off finishes from Parker, Delly and Monroe, who slipped a pick to fool Nene and get an easy layup. The quarter concluded with Milwaukee up 93-91.
Milwaukee stuck with Houston off a few tough jumpers, as the Rockets’ Clint Capela hit some practice session layups to make it 99 all. After Greg Monroe won a rebounding tussle with Clint Capela, Jason Terry nailed a transition three that Milwaukee followed up with three steals against Houston, each of them culminating in points punctuated by a Tony Snell three blasting Milwaukee ahead, 110-99. Houston tried pulling their way back, with Ryan Anderson hitting a deep three and James Harden repeatedly throwing his arms up to draw foul calls.
Milwaukee kept snatching the ball from Houston though, getting transition buckets with a Greg Monroe roll around the rim layup making it 118-110 with two and a half left. Giannis gave the Rockets a parting memory with a deep three-pointer over Nene’s salt and pepper locks as the ball swished through and Milwaukee won 127-114, snapping their five-game losing streak.
- Milwaukee went back to the starting lineup that started the season, dusting off Miles Plumlee from the doldrums of the Bucks’ bench. He was a clear benefit in the first half, with his rim-rolling ability paying dividends off several passes in the first half. He showed his volleyball blocks at the rim, which proved a competent obstruction at the rim, particularly compared to some of the conceding bear hugs Henson was brandying over the weekend. His propensity for finishing in the pick and roll seemed to juice a stagnant Bucks’ offense of late.
- Monroe came in during the first quarter and Harden wasted no time putting him into a washer cycle pick and roll, before flinging a pass to a rolling Nene who slipped the pick. Nene finished against Brogdon, but easily could’ve found two to three perimeter players for clean looks from deep. Monroe was a sieve against Houston the last time when Harden initiated the PnR and that was the same story early on tonight. Harden had his way against all the Bucks’ bigs, blasting through cracks as if they spanned the full court.
- All that being said, this was as good a game from Monroe as the team’s seen in some time. He looked competent offensively again, finishing low on the block and forging some nice chemistry with Giannis and Jabari on a few pinpoint connections.
- Jabari Parker had an aggressive opening period. It was one of those periods where Giannis exits and he’s willing to take over, finishing with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists in first. Parker showed some of his finest passing in the interior tonight, finding Moose for a quick one in the paint, and then Plumlee later in the second quarter. He was overshooting some of those passes earlier in the season, and him developing an improved touch on those passes would be a great start to him improving as a pick and roll ball handler, particularly when Giannis is off the floor. Here’s the loudest example:
- Jabari Parker hit a few of his midrange jumpers tonight, and there’s certainly value to him nailing those, particularly with his ability to create space for himself. However, he hasn’t been able to hit them with any sort of consistency, and those plus his mid-paint runners stand as his worst shot areas at the moment. In fact, his ideal shot chart is looking more and more like the epitome of offensive basketball efficiency in terms of his best shooting locations. I wonder if he’ll extend those stepback midrangers to the perimeter, and if they would translate there, so that the Bucks have a perimeter player capable of creating space for himself at the arc. Middleton should assuage some of those concerns, but there’s still no guarantee what he’ll be capable of when he comes back.
- Matthew Dellavedova looked more confident tonight, even nailing an off-the-bounce pull-up three pointer off a screen that looked like something Khris Middleton would be doing. His next attempt was a similar Aussie heat check three that ended with a brick, but he’s playing better than he was after those initial games when he returned.
- Jason Terry was a huge factor off the bench in the fourth quarter. He grabbed two steals, and hit a huge transition three-pointer to put Milwaukee up 104-99.
- Jabari led the Bucks in the latter half of the first quarter, establishing a rhythm and finding players around the court for easy looks. Interestingly, Milwaukee opted for Giannis to lead that charge in the latter portion of the third quarter. It should’ve opened the opportunity for Jabari Parker to take over in the early bit of the fourth quarter, but he barely touched the ball on Milwaukee’s first three possessions. Malcolm Brogdon tended to dominate the ball, and Jabari had Corey Brewer dead to rights on the block and failed to attack. Later, he had Patrick Beverley at the free throw line and just jab-stepped until he dished it back out to the perimeter. He hit a transition layup and got free throws, but Milwaukee’s offense was bailed out by a number of careless Houston turnovers that led to points for Milwaukee’s bench players. Eric noticed the smart tidbit below that I missed, but those minutes without Giannis were set up to be Jabari’s time to dominate the offense. His lack of fourth quarter aggression has been a continuing theme this season. Tonight just happened to turn out all right.
Brogdon tried to give Parker the ball there and he insisted it go to Moose in the post with the Harden mismatch. That's good stuff.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 24, 2017
- Jason Kidd opted not to play Michael Beasley tonight, a decision that seemed warranted given his run of uselessness in most games since the San Antonio contest. Beasley hadn’t had a DNP since the Bucks’ win over the Chicago Bulls on New Year’s Eve, and it seemed to help the ball not stick, particularly on some of those second unit groups.
- Mirza Teletovic has not made a three in the last five games he’s played.
- Here’s a pregame nugget from Charles Gardner:
Kidd said Bucks need to smile and have fun playing game.That has been lost during 5-game losing streak.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 24, 2017
- I think this qualifies: