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Milwaukee vs. New Orleans: Bucks Botch Late Lead Against Pelicans

A fourth quarter lambasting in the final 6 minutes hands Milwaukee its first loss in four games

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A porous defensive evening for the Milwaukee Bucks allowed the New Orleans Pelicans to smash them throughout the contest, 115-108. Milwaukee raced out to a 37-32 lead after one, posting an impressive offensive quarter particularly in the paint with 22 points beneath the stripe. Giannis led Milwaukee with 10 points, but their defense was not up to task early on. New Orleans was able to battle back but Milwaukee took a one point, 63-62, lead heading into halftime after an idiotic late foul by Demarcus Cousins. A 28-point combined effort from Anthony Davis and Cousins helped the Pellies but Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee by far with 21 points on 10-15 shooting while no other Buck besides John Henson (10) hit double figures in the half.

The narrow leads continued after three, with the Pelicans forging ahead by two points, 87-85. Their propensity from three continued to buoy their offensive output with 11 hits. Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s seven point lead early in the fourth dissipated quickly behind a 28-14 run down the stretch for the Pelicans to shut the door on this one.

Three Main Observations

Milwaukee’s big three has been all the rage of late. They’ve shot up to the second-best scoring trio in the league behind Golden State. Their impact has been enough to lead the Bucks back to relevancy in the thick of the Eastern Conference standings. Their stellar play has allowed Milwaukee’s role players to avoid any heavy lifting, but that potent attack wasn’t quite up to snuff tonight. While Giannis carried his weight with 32 points, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe scored just 29 combined. Shooting 10-33 will do that. Middleton was able to keep himself involved tonight with some nifty assists, 10 in total, but Bledsoe’s down-to-earth shooting night certainly hurt his production. I will take nine 3-point attempts from Middleton each night though.

Milwaukee went large swaths of the fourth quarter without Eric Bledsoe on the court. Even when the game narrowed to a back-and-forth affair hovering around the 100 mark, Deandre Liggins remained on the court in Bledsoe’s stead. It wasn’t until the 3:40 mark or so that Bledsoe returned, but by then the Pelicans had gone up by seven and the lead seemed insurmountable. Jason Kidd was standing with Bledsoe at the scorer’s table and certainly could have called a timeout earlier to get his star in the game. Milwaukee has been historically superb in the clutch since Eric Bledsoe arrived, which obviously prompted questions about why Kidd wouldn’t want his ideal guys out there. I wouldn’t say there was anything particularly egregrious about Liggin’s play to be fair, but he gave up a paint bucket after losing his man and more importantly, hid in the corner as New Orleans cloaked him with the wizened Jameer Nelson. Bledsoe on the court shifts that geometry, giving them an off the dribble threat that probably forces Jrue Holiday onto him, freeing up Brogdon to attack the aged Nelson. Hypotheticals are instructive but don’t lead to certainties, however the data points to a failure on the coaching staff’s part there to insert the right players soon enough.

I’m not gonna give significant props to role players, but both Gary Payton II and Joel Bolomboy at least had a relatively positive impact while they were on the court. Payton had perhaps his best half of the season, scoring a few offensive rebounds to keep things alive and grabbing a gimme steal late in the second quarter for a simple fastbreak. Meanwhile, Bolomboy didn’t look completely outmatched on the court against Asik and even hit a decent dunk after a patient game with Middleton. Admittedly there were plenty of mistakes. Bolomboy looked like a dandelion floating in the wind at times and Payton’s inability to shoot and lack of passing ability in transition hamstrung Milwaukee at times. However, seeing any sort of growth or contribution from a team that’s been incredibly reliant on their prominent three of late was a welcome sight.

Bonus Bucks Bits

John Henson opened with eight of the Bucks’ first 12 points tonight, impressive given he was facing the bulk of Boogie inside. He leveraged a fastbreak opportunity to get a quick slam too.

Milwaukee gave Giannis an early blow tonight, letting Thon Maker and John Henson share the court to take on the Pelican’s big duo. Cousins manhandled Maker in the post when he got deep positioning on one possession. It ended quickly though when Davis went out and Maker got Boogie one-on-one. He handled him credibly enough as Boogie hit a stepback jumper but Maker’s pestering game got to the temperamental brute. When Boogie missed two bunnies against Thon, Maker sprinted down the court and got an easy offensive putback for free throws while Boogie lethargically remained out of frame in the backcourt.

Joel Bolomboy got some early run tonight after Maker picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. He grabbed an offensive board and lingered in the paint around a plodding Asik for an easy dunk off a Middleton back-shuffle feed. He had another herky-jerky pull-up runner off the dribble too. He must be practicing with Matthew Dellavedova.

Giannis’ early exit allowed for some intriguing lineups we haven’t been able to see much with the prominent power forward backup, Mirza Teletovic, out. That Henson-Maker combo mentioned above hadn’t played a minute together yet this year. They surrounded them with Brogdon, Middleton and Bledsoe for a spell too. That lineup wouldn’t be too shabby if Snell was available, but I’m wary of Maker even being able to stick with fours too much. All of this is to say, I’m looking forward to Mirza’s return.

It’s definitely not the most efficient shot, but boy do I love when Giannis spins around and banks a pretty jumper off the glass from the elbow.

Remember that amazing oop from Eric Bledsoe to Giannis in their first game together. Well, here’s part deux:

Gary Payton II grabbed a loose ball after a Henson poke-out and threw up an alley-oop that should’ve certainly been converted. Unfortunately, both Henson and Giannis went up simultaneously. To be fair, John probably deserved that finish after forcing the steal, but please don’t deny us Giannis fast break alley-oops.

John Henson did a really nice job stripping Boogie down in the post to create steals for the Bucks. Unsurprisingly, the cantankerous center looked noticeably upset each and every time.

Maker had one of the quickest recoveries I can remember from him tonight when Dante Cunningham slipped down low for what looked to be an easy layup. Instead, Maker flew down the lane and blasted the ball off the backboard with a block.

Demarcus Cousins turned the ball over nine freaking times tonight, enough for 21 total turnovers for the Pelicans. With just 24 points off of those, Milwaukee certainly could’ve capitalized better on the Pelicans’ gaffes. Some second half on the fast break led to botched dunks that were going cleanly in the first half. Without that boost, the Bucks couldn’t keep their lead intact late.