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Milwaukee vs. Minnesota: Late Comeback Buoys Bucks Past Near Blunder

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A dominant fourth quarter carries Milwaukee past a visting Minnesota squad

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pure terror turned to delight late in Thursday’s game, as the Milwaukee Bucks were able to overcome a 20-point deficit against the Minnesota Timberwolves to emerge victorious 102-96. A 26-16 first quarter deficit for Milwaukee was a depressing follow-up to their loss against Chicago, especially considering Giannis scored half of those initial points. That same deficit carried over to halftime, when Minnesota still led 56-46 with the KEG trio carrying most of the scoring load, tallying 31 overall in the first 24 minutes. Milwaukee finally found the beauty of a single digit deficit after three, trailing by ONLY nine, 84-75, even with Eric Bledsoe scoring 20 to that point. What had been a horrifically unwatchable performance turned into an overpowering show of might in the fourth though, with Milwaukee outscoring Minnesota 27-12 in the final quarter and grasping the victory at home late, 102-96.

Three Main Observations

Milwaukee shot just six 3-pointers in the first half tonight. Milwaukee certainly isn’t blazing up the charts from deep, but six, particularly when they make just one, is a relatively inexcusable number to attempt from deep when several of those came on one possession due to offensive rebounds. Their 30-12 points in the paint advantage against the rim protection-less Timberwolves frontline kept them in the game, but Milwaukee eschewing shots from deep seemed silly when Minnesota ranks below them in total attempts per game. The Bucks went just 5/15 in the final ledger with Minnesota chocking up 28 shots from deep. Thankfully that paint point advantage carried through to the end.

Malcolm Brogdon didn’t even get off the bench in the first quarter, a strange decision considering the guys who got run in front of him included Sterling Brown, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry. Plus Tony Snell came in again before him. I’m not sure what put him in Kidd’s doghouse, or whether he was an apparently bad matchup against Minnesota, but I can’t imagine he’s any worse a matchup than Delly. He finally saw his first minutes around the three minute mark of the second quarter. At least he just outscored five of the Bucks players that half who got more minutes than his paltry three.

Brogdon rebounded in the second half though, helping Milwaukee turn what was a horrendous deficit into a manageable game and finishing +20 on the night. As I illustrate below, this was all the more impressive considering he took a -7 to start his third quarter stint.

Tonight might’ve been Eric Bledsoe’s biggest statement game yet as a Buck. His stats weren’t the most gaudy of his time in Milwaukee, but his relentless defensive effort (five steals tonight) and ability to force necessary buckets when the Bucks offense looked stuck in mud was needed. His efficient night featured a well-mannered 8-15 shooting performance, including a perfect 8-8 from the line, supplemented what was a poor overall offensive night for much of the first three quarters. The capper was his near alley-oop pass to Giannis that ended in a bucket and his emphatic toss to Henson for a slam that finished the game out after breaking through Minnesota’s pressure. The final offensive rating of 113.0 belies what was rough sledding to that point as illustrated by Eric.

Bonus Bucks Bits

Jason Kidd subbed out Tony Snell and John Henson within two minutes of the game starting tonight for Thon Maker and Sterling Brown. That was closely followed by Eric Bledsoe a minute later for Matthew Dellavedova. Apparently Jason Kidd’s fuse was quite short.

Eric Bledsoe’s defensive presence in the second quarter completely restored any semblance of momentum to Milwaukee. With three steals in the first three minutes, those turnovers led to eight points for the Bucks that brought Milwaukee back from the depressing brink they were on after the first quarter. His authoritative tomahawk dunk to bring the Bucks within five was quite welcoming after a sad initial 12 minutes.

Khris Middleton was rejected soundly by the rim on a fastbreak and I was thoroughly depressed by the whole affair. At least it was followed up by a beautifully botched alley-oop by Thon Maker off a crisp pass by Eric Bledsoe. Not the finest sequence for Milwaukee blowing a number of easy baskets that could’ve brought them within single digits of Minnesota at that point.

As a follow-up to Kidd’s bizarro substitution patterns, he put Malcolm Brogdon in less than two minutes into the second half to take Giannis’ place and to guard Andrew Wiggins. For some reason, taking out your best player who isn’t in foul trouble in favor of an inferior defender seems like a weird rationale when your team is already trailing by a significant margin. In the three minutes after Brogdon entered for Giannis, a 13-point deficit turned into a 20-point deficit.

On one possession when the Bucks got a steal in the frontcourt after a poor Jamal Crawford pass, typically a situation where you can get a high percentage shot, Eric Bledsoe instead dribbled the ball high beyond the arc for around five seconds before giving Brogdon the ball for a post-up on the elbow. The end result after much adribbling about nothing resulted in a backcourt violation after a wretched shot. That’s a fine summation of Milwaukee’s quite stagnant offense to that point.

Milwaukee’s first lead of the game didn’t come until the 2:25 mark of the fourth quarter when Giannis fed Eric Bledsoe in the corner for a 3-point mark to put the Bucks ahead 95-93.

There is a pretty overwhelming among of negativity in these bonus bits, but the majority of tonight’s contest was an exercise in frustration not dissimilar to the Bulls game. What matters most though, collecting stops as the game winds down, showed up in spades for the Bucks though and gave them a needed win considering the gauntlet that awaits them. That starts with tonight’s game against Oklahoma City.