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Milwaukee vs. Houston: Bucks Lose Close One Against Rockets

The Bucks were so close but yet so far to beating the best team in the NBA

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After an unsuccessful home stand where they were defeated by the Pelicans and Bulls, the Milwaukee Bucks made their way to Houston on Saturday night to face off against the red hot Houston Rockets. Despite some solid effort, the Bucks expand their losing streak to three games as they fell on the road to the Rockets, 115-111.

For local Bucks fans, they were unable to see the 1st quarter as FSWsconsin experienced technical difficulties which ultimately pushed them to listen to Jim Paschke like it was a radio broadcast or find alternate ways to keep track online. As most Bucks faithful were trapped in the dark, the Bucks did a good job of keeping pace with the superior team as they only trailed 28-25 after that first quarter.

Once FSWisconsin’s issues evaporated before the 2nd quarter, Bucks fans were able to watch a game where it was directly apparent that both teams were tired after playing in the previous night. Within that quarter, both teams combined to commit 11 turnovers, which definitely had more to do with the mental exhaustion of the players rather than strong defensive effort. Despite that sluggish effort, Milwaukee got the small edge during that quarter as they entered halftime tied 55-55 with Houston.

That close nature continued during the vast majority of the 3rd quarter despite the defensive struggles of the Bucks. Although Houston shot an abysmal 31% from the field during that period, they were still able to be a threat due to their continued ability to go to the free-throw line as they had 14 attempts from the charity stripe in just one quarter. So while the Bucks offense looked more in sync from an aesthetic perspective, as they shot 50% in that quarter, it was out-matched by Houston’s free-throw shooting prowess as they went into the 3rd down 82-70

Milwaukee’s inability to keep the Rockets off the free-throw line during the 3rd ended up being one of the killer haymakers to the Bucks. While they hung close during the majority of that 4th quarter, thanks to the great shooting of Khris Middleton, it wasn’t enough once Chris Paul put the team on his back during the closing minutes and led them to a win.

On Saturday night, the trio of GIannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon stood as that game’s Big 3 as they scored 23, 28 and 20 points, respectively. For Bledsoe, he wasn’t able to really get going against Houston as he had 19 points on an inefficient 7-18 from the field. For Houston, James Harden had a game-high 31 pints that featured him going 11-14 from the field. His backcourt partner, Chris Paul, impressed as he put up 25 points, 5 boards and 6 assists on 7-13 from the field.

Three Main Observations

The Bucks continue to struggle with keeping opponents off the free-throw line

I mentioned it briefly in the rundown of the game but the Rockets were consistently able to find a way to get to the free-throw line. Over the course of the game, the Rockets had 42 free throw attempts, which is actually their season high.

While some of the calls were very ticky-tacky (i.e supposed foul from Henson on PJ Tucker in the 3rd quarter), this continues to be an unfortunate trend for the Bucks. Whether its the fault of the actual players or Kidd’s defensive scheme (I’m leaning the second option), it’s something that this team needs to fix if they want to be a threat in the Eastern Conference.

Sterling Brown is pretty good.....when he’s not fouling

With Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Terry and Tony Snell currently out with various injuries, the Milwaukee Bucks have relied on backcourt players that would’ve otherwise been DNPs. In prior games, the Bucks have turned to DeAndre Liggins, Rashad Vaughn and Gary Payton II, which has ultimately yielded unsatisfactory results. Although each of those players were on the court against Houston, Coach Kidd decided to give rookie guard Sterling Brown some minutes.

In 14 minutes, Brown put up 6 points, 4 boards, 1 steal and 1 block on 3-4 from the field. From an offensive perspective, Brown seemed solid as he made smart drives to the rim, was in the right place on the court and looked confident as a shooter. Just those two traits alone is exciting after having to watch DeAndre Liggins and Gary Payton II.

Unfortunately, those bright points were pushed to the side as he committed four fouls in the 14 minutes he played. Brown’s fouls were largely due to him either not keeping up with his defensive assignment or just being a little too aggressive as a help defender. As a rookie that hasn’t got an opportunity to get used to the pace of the NBA, those issues should subside as he gets more minutes.

Lack of perimeter shooters continues to kill the Bucks

In yet another game, the Bucks showed why they desperately need Tony Snell and even Mirza Teletovic to return to the Bucks lineup as the team shot 29% from beyond the arc on 27 perimeter attempts. Honestly, some of the blame can be placed on Bledsoe’s shoulders where he shot 1-7 from 3, which is troubling when you consider the amount of open looks he got. Aside from possibly Middleton, the Bucks currently don’t have a reliable perimeter weapon. That ultimately hurts the Bucks offense as it gives opposing teams the opportunity to stay near the paint which closes up potential driving opportunities for Giannis.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Why isn’t Jason Kidd starting Malcolm Broglon? I understand that you want an offensive weapon in your 2nd unit but the Bucks routinely have slow starts to their games, which probably has something to do with them having Gary Payton II or DeAndre Liggins in your starting lineup. Honestly, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for Kidd to start each game with the team’s five best players. Currently, that unit would be Bledsoe, Brogdon, Middleton, Giannis and Henson.
  • Khris Middleton’s continued in-game inconsistency will continue to confuse me. I feel like there’s been so many games where Middleton has these long runs where he can’t seem to make any kind of perimeter shot. However, those struggles seem to dissipate once that 4th quarter because that’s when he really turns into that fantastic weapon that’s helped the Bucks out so many times.
  • I know that Brown had his issues with actually staying in the game due to foul trouble but I’d honestly prefer him over DeAndre Liggins. While Liggins started this season as a defensive stalwart, that has stagnated over the past few weeks which is bad because he might not know what a shot clock is. Although we still don’t know what Brown actually is, he’s shown more upside in a few minutes than Liggins has in a full season.
  • Around an hour or two after the end of the Rockets game, ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that the Bucks would waive Gary Payton II on Monday after the 45 days of service on his two-way deal ends on Monday. Like most Bucks fans, I was upset during that four-game stretch where he started games even though there were better point guards available for the team. Also, he didn’t really fit the Bucks due to his struggles as a perimeter shooter and the fact that his selfish nature in transition.
  • After he tweeted the Payton II news, Chris Haynes reported that the Bucks were going to sign Sean Kilpatrick. Honestly, I love this move as Kilpatrick is so much better than every backcourt player in the team’s 2nd unit that’s not named Malcolm Brogdon. Last year for the Nets, he put up 13.1 points, 4 boards and 2.3 assists per game on 41% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. Although he struggled with the team before he was ultimately waived on December 7th, hopefully a new home can bring him back to how he was last year. If he’s able to do that then the Bucks could actually have a strong backcourt duo in their 2nd unit. Crosses fingers