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Milwaukee vs. Charlotte: Bucks Can’t Conquer Charlotte Without Giannis

Missing their superstar, Milwaukee gives up a huge second half lead to fall in the waning minutes

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

It was a narrow game considering Giannis was out, but the Milwaukee Bucks still dropped a road game to the Charlotte Hornets tonight, 111-106. Charlotte staked a one-point lead after the first quarter, 24-23, with balanced attacks for both teams in the scoring ledger. Milwaukee flipped that in the second quarter, managing to head into half 54-53 behind a 12-point half from Eric Bledsoe. The Bucks went just 4-15 (26.7%) from behind the arc compared to Charlotte hitting the same amount, albeit on just six attempts. That portended well for a second half bounce back from distance. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. Despite Milwaukee opening up an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter, Charlotte finished on a 24-10 run to finish the quarter down just four to the Bucks, 85-81. The fourth quarter featured plenty of back-and-forth between the two teams, but when Eric Bledsoe’s 3-pointer hit only backboard with less than a second to go, the Bucks fate was sealed.

Three Main Observations

You missed Giannis, I missed Giannis, we all missed Giannis

Giannis Antetokounmpo missed tonight’s game with right knee soreness, prompting the insertion of Matthew Dellavedova into his starting spot. Kidd seemed unconcerned with the issue, just as he did when Giannis missed an earlier game this season against Phoenix with the same problem. Matt Velazquez asked him about it and he again deferred the answer to something as simple as, he’s sore, he will be occasionally hurt and he continues to play at a high level. While the latter part of that is certainly true, it’s frustrating to see their superstar continue to miss games when perhaps lowering his minutes load from a league-leading level to a more manageable amount could prevent him from missing games in the long-term.

Tony Snell’s Improved Salary Has Been Well Worth It

Tony Snell man. As I mention below, he’s been a far more prolific and effective driver this year than his inaugural season with Milwaukee. He’s almost played a long con on the league with this, shooting almost exclusively threes last year with little to no usage to speak of. While he’s still hitting those at an incredible clip this year, his ability driving to the basket has advanced far beyond anything I though possible. All of last year, he attempted just 57 field goals on drives, hitting only 47.4% of those. This year, he’s already shot 21 times on drives and is nailing 61.9% of his hits. That’s an incredible improvement for someone with little to no existence or flashes of an off-the-dribble game.

Defensive Success Wasted by Unimaginative Offense

On the decisive defensive possession of regulation, John Henson and Eric Bledsoe played a brilliant two-man game against Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard’s pick and roll. Howard came up practically to the Hornets logo to set the pick, meaning Henson would have to corral Walker for some time with his outrageous length. He was able to deter him enough for Bledsoe to power through and recover, forcing a tough shot at the rim that Howard couldn’t clean up on the offensive glass. While Middleton’s lackadaisical nature almost gave up a killer offensive board to Kidd-Gilchrist, instead Milwaukee escaped with a chance to tie or take the lead down two with 21.1 seconds left. Unfortunately, their successive possession featured Khris Middleton isolating and pulling some dribble moves off before bricking a midrange pull-up. He made up for it by drilling a sideline 3-pointer to bring them within one though.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • John Henson really had it rolling (har har) early on in the game playing right behind Charlotte’s frontline defense at the rim. Both Eric Bledsoe and Tony Snell threw up nifty passes to the lengthy center rolling towards the hoop and while they weren’t entirely successful, Henson’s rim-running has been considerably improved this year. Particularly, his patience after the catch has led to some controlled passes to the perimeter, or, as was the case tonight, a calm hook shot or drawing a foul.
  • Snell pump-faked an oncoming Hornet defender after receiving a pass for what would typically be an above the break triple toss, but instead he flashed what’s been a much-improved off the dribble game this year and stretched around the center for a layup. Snell continues to outplay his contract.
  • The fact D.J. Wilson still couldn’t make it on the floor in the first quarter tonight when Jason Kidd opted to run out a Brogdon-Liggins-Brown-Snell-Henson lineup is pretty outrageous. Not to mention the fact it seems bizarre not to stagger Middleton and Bledsoe knowing that your best player is out. It was a curious decision and a continuing indictment of Wilson’s ability at least in this coaching staff’s eyes to contribute. Thankfully, Wilson was able to get some early second quarter one to alleviate Thon and Henson at the center position. Personally, I would’ve rather seen Henson get more run and let Wilson take over Middleton’s duties guarding Johnny O’Bryant or Frank Kaminsky where he looked overmatched.
  • I’m a fan of Sterling Brown and am glad to see him finally get more minutes. It’s clear he’s going to need to strengthen up though when attacking the rim. The fact he’s angling for those shots is encouraging at this early juncture in his career, but he’ll either have to develop a reverse layup a la Malcolm Brogdon to score effectively or go up with more authority.
  • Sean Kilpatrick’s immediate energy felt like a refreshing change of pace from the cavalcade of passive guards Milwaukee has been trotting out. Almost right upon entry he got a pass to go up for a bucket with contact near the hoop and then he had a great cut as the shot clock wound down for a difficult in-between runner. The gunning mentality can be detrimental in the wrong hands, but when there’s been a fleet of players more apprehensive than dudes at a middle school dance, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see Kilpatrick’s competency.
  • Dellavedova hit a deep pull-up shot, but it was really depressing to see his foot clearly on the 3-point line in real time.
  • As a Badger fan, it was always sad to me that Kaminsky has rarely used his fleet of patient post moves in the pros that decimated most defenders in college. Tonight looked like a retro night against D.J. Wilson, who bit like a malnourished fish at almost every shot bait Kaminsky threw at him.
  • Middleton had a rough shooting night overall, but he tacked in two really important 3-pointers as the third quarter got underway to extend Milwaukee’s lead to double digits. One of them was under duress as well, but his willingness to continue firing with the absence of Giannis was a must tonight.
  • Kaminsky went up to block an after-the-whistle 3-pointer attempt by Eric Bledsoe in the third quarter tonight and instead of swatting it away, he completely missed it and it swished through as his hand feebly went into the bucket. Quite humorous.
  • Deandre Liggins was rough defensively tonight and his usual uselessness offensively. Jeremy Lamb bested him multiple times in the fourth quarter to draw fouls on him and although he badgered MCW far from the hoop, that seemed a bit excessive for someone whose every shot engenders an “oh no” exclamation.