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Milwaukee vs. Utah: Smooth Jazz Shooting Silences Bucks

That was not fun

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks got shot out of the gym last night against the Utah Jazz, losing by a score of 121-108. The Jazz took 32 three-point shots and converted on a franchise record 18 of them. The Bucks defense looked all out of sorts last night as they were too slow to rotate on the quick Utah perimeter passes. The game started with a bit of good news as both Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson made their way back from injury and into the starting lineup. That excitement was quelled upon finding out that Gary Payton II would be starting in his second consecutive game, this time to act as a Donovan Mitchell stopper (ha).

The Bucks opened the game showing signs of a holiday hangover, but quickly righted the ship as they overcame their turnover issues. Despite committing six of their 17 total turnovers in the first quarter, Milwaukee was able to hang with the just-heating-up Jazz offense at the quarter break. At the half, it became apparent that the Bucks would have to do something different on defense if they wanted their solid offensive showing to have any effect on the game.

The Jazz shot 53 percent from beyond the arc in the first half and the defensive adjustments made at the half proved to be fruitless. On their way to setting the franchise’s record for three-point shots made in a game, the Jazz shot 60 percent from deep in the second half. If any defensive adjustments were made at the break I did not see them. The Jazz continued on with their business as usual ball movement and played keep away with the Bucks’ perimeter defenders.

The physical toll of always chasing on defense reared its ugly head on the offensive side in the second half. Milwaukee could not convert on the tough shots they were making in the first half and tired legs lead to converting on just six of their 11 second half free throws. The Jazz would not let the Bucks even sniff a comeback in this one and now Milwaukee heads to California for the first time to take on the lowly Sacramento Kings. I’m a lot more nervous about that game now.

Three Observations

After missing Wednesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns with a minor knee injury, Giannis returned and got right down to business. He got to the free throw line eight times in the first quarter and looked to impose his physical will near the rim. Unfortunately that would be the only point in this game where it felt like Giannis was getting calls at the rim. The remaining three quarters saw the Freak take three free throws—yep, just three. That was not due to Antetokounmpo shying away from the post, however, Giannis was doing what he always does and stuck his nose near the rim, as evidenced by this nifty left handed put-back slam.

He was just not getting the similar calls that he was getting in the first quarter, really. After not hearing a whistle blow on a shot that he was sure he was fouled on, Giannis had no reservations about flailing his arms in disgust and chirping into the void about how upset he was with the non-call. The 22 year old turned the ball over on the next offensive possession with his emotions carrying over from play-to-play and to the bench, where he got into a little war of words with Assistant Coach Sean Sweeney. In a now deleted tweet, Giannis had choice words for the “mastermind” behind Milwaukee’s defense. I’m glad the Bucks only All-Star is as frustrated we are.

A franchise does not set a record for three-point field goals made by accident. Utah was helped plenty by Milwaukee’s defensive organization and assignments. With the Jazz down one Rudy Gobert, it would seem that the defensive game plan gets easier without having to account for a skilled big man. Nothing comes easy for the Bucks as the defensive plan was to [checks note card, mouths “really” to someone off camera] attack Ricky Rubio on pick and rolls. Here is what a Jazz beat writer thought of that.

Rubio is no primary offensive threat, but he is a fantastic passer and trying to trap the Spanish international was a very, uh, bold choice. Rubio passed out of traps which got the Bucks, predictably, out of position, which lead to scrambled switching, which lead to more perimeter ball movement, which lead to open three-point shots. The Jazz took 13 corner threes and made six of them, Donovan Mitchell accounted for three of those six.

In the fourth quarter, with the game not entirely out of reach, but definitely borderline out of reach, Kidd subbed in Rashad Vaughn to make sure the game would end up out of reach. I swear it’s like one step forward and two steps back with these lineups and rotations.

Tony Snell had himself a fantastic basketball game and was really the only positive takeaway. He had a great first half scoring 11 points on five of six shooting, including this out of nowhere slam.

Snell would finish with a season high 18 points on 80 percent shooting and continues to show signs of growth even after signing a long-term contract this off-season. I could not even venture a guess as to what the rotation plan is for Snell going forward, but he is definitely a great back-up option to when Khris Middleton has off nights.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Fear the Deer! Well, at least that’s what the jerseys say. The Bucks wore their “Fear the Deer” jerseys for the first time this year, but there was not much deer fearing in Salt Lake City last night, I reckon.
  • I was reminded of the Disney Channel Original Movie, Smart House last night because of the Jazz’s arena is name. The Vivint Smart Home Arena does not really roll off the tongue and I hope the Bucks’ new arena does not get a lame name like that.
  • Reminder: Giannis has been having chronic knee problems for awhile and he played 39 minutes after missing an entire game due to those same knee problems. I get that his presence was needed tonight, but I would rather not have the 22 year old All-Star succumb to old man knees when he is older and in his prime.
  • Everyone seemed to play in the first quarter as 10 different Bucks saw action. Jason Kidd decided to go all galaxy brain on us and jam as many different lineups and head scratching into 12 minutes as possible.
  • Khris Middleton struggled tonight on both ends of the court. Khash was anything but, shooting a paltry 26 percent from the floor that totaled to just nine points, his lowest since the Halloween massacre against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was also slow on defensive rotations which factored into Utah perpetually being on fire, NBA Jam style, all night.
  • I have noticed opposing coaches are not afraid to call a quick timeout when the Bucks begin to seize even a little bit of momentum and have a mini-run going. I really cannot remember Kidd doing the same this season. His timeouts to end opposing teams’ runs are usually later than they should be.
  • Donovan Mitchell is really good (duh). He came out of Louisville more experienced than his fellow draft class mates and he has stepped right into being the guy for Utah. I remember post-draft that Mitchell said Utah was his number one choice to play and he really is going to be something for Salt Lake. I’m excited to watch him grow.
  • Do not fool yourself into thinking that the poor defensive showing was completely on the players. Utah knew what was going to be thrown at them and they just kept picking the defensive game plan apart. Having freakishly and disproportionately long human beings on your team should make playing defense easier for everyone and it is up to the coaching staff to figure out how best to maximize the talent and length.