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Milwaukee vs. San Antonio: Bledsoe Debut Brings Bucks an Elusive Win

The newcomer fit right in as he fed Giannis for highlight reel dunks en route to the victory

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at San Antonio Spurs Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

In a tantalizingly enjoyable game, the Milwaukee Bucks overcame the Spurs late comeback to emerge victorious, 94-87. Milwaukee started out sluggish before catapulting themselves back into the lead with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s usual antics and some transition terror from Eric Bledsoe and Giannis. They went into halftime trailing by just one, 47-46, despite attempting 14 more shots than the Spurs. Giannis and Bledsoe connected a number of times, and Bledsoe brought a sense of sporadic athleticism Milwaukee’s been lacking in the backcourt to compliment their Greek star. Milwaukee shot just 42.9% to San Antonio’s 52.8%, but the Bucks got plenty of simple shots with 10 fast break points to the Spurs’ goose egg in the category.

The third quarter featured even more fleet of foot rushes on fast breaks to slip Milwaukee into a double-digit lead. Some sloppy Bucks’ ball control and Manu Ginobli shotgunning a can from the Fountain of Youth cut the Bucks lead to six, 76-70, heading into the fourth. Milwaukee clung to a tight lead as the game wound down, with all Milwaukee men looking entirely gassed. Giannis missed a few jumpers and free throws short, but continued to pummel the Spurs down low, much to the chagrin of the San Antonio fans who taught all onlookers that every Spurs foul is not, indeed, a foul. Contact be damned though, as Bledsoe and Khris Middleton took care of splashing some midrange jumpers to expand their lead to a comfortable margin as the Bucks took home a win.

Bledsoe’s debut was quite heartening, showing off athleticism no other Bucks guard on the roster can match. His frenetic defensive presence wreaked havoc against the Spurs and there’s plenty of reason for optimism even with a number of offensive snafus and miscommunication. More importantly, Milwaukee got a much-needed road win after bottoming out with four straight losses. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but not dropping a very winnable game against Los Angeles tomorrow would be a good place to start.

Three Main (Bledsoe) Observations

  • Eric Bledsoe cares not for your lethargic pace. He screams down the court, including flashing off a defensive rebound by Middleton to start sprinting upcourt for an and-one opportunity at the rim tonight. He didn’t wait for his teammates like their other slow-footed point guards, and the confidence attacking the rim is something few previous Bucks guards have demonstrated. Before that sequence, he ran downcourt and drew enough attention to find a trailing Giannis for a bucket. Considering Giannis has been a human cherry-picker this season, it’s nice to see him finally have a fitting tag-team partner. Peas in a pod:
  • Like a Bluth family home, Bledsoe is solid as a rock. His defensive prowess was well known, if somewhat undermined by talk of lazy effort during his waning years in the Phoenix desert, but his tools were on full display tonight. He looks like a wily opponent, matching his man like a shadow and recovering from any gambles before the player even has time to take advantage. Most prominent was his grit on screens, where he seemingly couldn’t be bumped from his spot and stuck to the ball handler’s hip like a burr to your socks. With penetrating ball handlers eating Milwaukee’s defense alive for years, it’s nice to see someone who could finally combat them.
  • Jason Kidd went to the lineup I’m most curious to see work in the fourth, slotting Bledsoe-Brogdon-Middleton-Giannis-Henson out on the court. Probably replace Thon with Henson, but that’s four ball handlers on the court who can make things happen while only having two guys who can really space the court. That’s why it makes more sense to get Thon out there in those moments. There’s also the question of the push-pull between those four creating offense. As the season wears on, I’m curious whether Tony Snell (who was in the starting lineup tonight) will end up being the more optimum choice down the stretch. Brogdon more than proved himself in crunch time last year, but Snell’s such a content perimeter patrolman, sharpshooter and willing defender, he may be a better fit if only due to his limited usage. One can never have enough players who can create on their own though, particularly when the game bogs down late, so there’s merit to both arguments. Something worth watching at least.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • If you were worried Matthew Dellavedova would have trouble still finding minutes, fret not, for he was one of the first subs off the bench alongside Malcolm Brogdon to replace the entire backcourt. Those minutes may curtail a bit as Bledsoe works back into game shape, but in the meantime we still get to enjoy him before he goes down under 20 minutes in the rotation.
  • Kidd went with a three-guard lineup of Bledsoe, Brogdon and Dellavedova tonight late in the first quarter alongside Giannis and Thon. It gave Middleton a reprieve and Bldedose thrived twice in transition, once with a blow by athletic finish at the rim and the other a comfortable toss-off to Giannis for an easy bucket. The man knows who to give it to when he’s on the run. I don’t know if Dellavedova necessarily needs to be within that group given Snell would serve as an off-ball spacer, but it may take a bit to wean Kidd off his Delly binkie.
  • Bledsoe passed up a three near the end of the first quarter for a long two instead. We know his 3-point pedigree is wanting, but just shoot the ball bud! You haven’t hit the side of the backboard yet like another former Bucks trade piece.
  • Three guard lineups were en vogue tonight. Kidd followed up the lineup mentioned earlier by tossing out Deandre Liggins to join Snell and Delly on the perimeter while Middleton ran the offense and John Henson moved to different places on the court. Surprisingly, they happened to take back the lead 37-36 with a Liggins triple, Middleton mismatch and Delly dropping home a three.
  • Eric Bledsoe canned a catch-and-shoot three off a Giannis assist tonight. It’ll be curious to see how that pairing works with inverted pick-and-rolls given Bledsoe’s iffy shooting from deep. Delly uses that pretty cleanly by getting open looks from Giannis, but look for Bledsoe to occasionally slip that pick and get a feed from Giannis’ high vantage point as Bledsoe flashes to the rim.
  • This is preposterous and came after a similar Bledsoe steal near the top of the 3-point arc for an easy dunk on the other end.
  • Khris Middleton looked off his game again tonight, forcing isolation shots at the rim and trying to find passing lanes that weren’t there. Outside of his 43-point outburst, Middleton’s seemed like someone who may benefit from letting the game come to him with Bledsoe acting as a newfound creator. Middleton is still quite an adept passer, as evidenced by his 11 assists against Cleveland, but right now he needs to get his 3-point shot right.
  • Old man Manu dunked in transition after some abhorrent passes by Milwaukee, but it was pretty dope to see the balding Argentinian get up there for the flush.