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Milwaukee vs. Charlotte: Bucks Overpowered in the Fourth Quarter

Khris Middleton scored 43, but the Hornets had too much for the Bucks to handle.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The major storyline of the season for the Milwaukee Bucks has been the inability for anyone to truly contain Giannis Antetokounmpo. In a more-decisive-than-the-final-score-indicates 126-121 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the young Greek superstar was contained (14 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks while playing “only” 32 minutes due to 5 fouls), while Khris Middleton exploded out of his slump (43 points on 15/28 shooting, including 5/11 threes, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds).

We spent some time on Wednesday discussing the relative talent gap the Bucks are currently dealing with, exacerbated by the extended absence of Greg Monroe. This game was not an example of Milwaukee’s talent failing to show up; Middleton more than held up his end of the bargain, as did Malcolm Brogdon (20 points) and Tony Snell (17 points). But the Hornets saw seven players score in the double-digits, compared to five for the Bucks, making this a simple case of Milwaukee’s talent getting outnumbered.

Much like Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, where the Bucks’ supporting cast was a no-show, it’s difficult to qualify this loss as normal, or even expected. Many teams will not keep Giannis this far off-kilter, and 94 points from four of your starters is usually enough to put a team in a position to win. But the Bucks consistently allowed runs of unanswered Charlotte baskets, and the fourth quarter run was too much for Milwaukee to handle.

Three Numbers

  • 15:27: the amount of time the Hornets spent in the bonus. The free throw differential on Wednesday night (Charlotte took 29 foul shots, compared to 15 for Milwaukee) was almost as stark as it was in the first meeting back in October (CHA: 36 FTAs; MIL: 16 FTAs), and continued to reflect the difficulty presented by the Hornets’ sheer physicality. Milwaukee played more tentative on defense than usual because of the whistles they were attracting, while Charlotte routinely swarmed any Buck ballhandler that wandered near the lane. When these teams next meet, Milwaukee will need to have an answer for Charlotte’s roughhousing, lest they get bullied into taking another loss.
  • 36 lbs: the weight differential between Dwight Howard and John Henson. The way that the contact went between two for much of the game made the differential feel more like 36 tons; Henson was routinely pushed off of his spots and struggled (more than usual) to maintain any sort of ground. This is to say nothing of Thon Maker, whose 216 lb. frame was regularly sent flailing away from the lane with naught more than a nudge from Howard. Funnily enough, the Bucks actually kept pace on the boards (41 TRB for Charlotte, 40 for Milwaukee), but the space created by the Hornets’ big men paved the way to the basket more often than the Bucks could withstand.
  • Seven: the number of baskets allowed to Hornets rookie Malik Monk, who’s jumper was as smooth as a friar’s head. Monk was popular prospect with Bucks fans leading into last June’s draft, and with his 18 fourth quarter points he likely further endeared himself to anyone who was already a member of his order (OK, I’m done with the monk puns). Monk’s 25 points in the game proved to be a major difference-maker on the scoreboard, while Milwaukee’s bench backcourt struggled to keep up.

Random Bucks Bits

  • The Bucks continue the three-point revolution at an encouraging pace, going 19/36 from behind the arc. Their hot shooting was contagious, as the Hornets converted 14 of their 25 attempts.
  • Giannis is turning heads around the NBA for his efficiency, but today had his first legitimately poor shooting night: 5/16 from the field, only four free throw attempts, and amazingly only converted a single field goal in the second half.
  • As frustration mounts with Bucks fans disappointed in the team’s early performance, seeing Khris Middleton’s return to form was encouraging. In going 5/9 from the field in the first quarter, Middleton appeared to regain confidence in his scoring ability, fueling his career outing on the scoreboard.
  • Notable former Buck Johnny O’Bryant did not play in this contest, which makes everyone just a bit more sad.
  • The education of Thon Maker continues. After moving to the bench for the first time this season, Thon played his customary amount (19 minutes) and generally looked out of sorts for most of his time on the court (3 fouls, 2 turnovers, and -17 on the night).
  • As a team, the Bucks seemed unable to use their length on defense; in registering only 3 steals and 3 blocks, their defensive output underwhelmed compared to their season average (7.9 steals/game, 4.0 blocks/game).