A putrid affair turned into a close encounter in the second half, as Milwaukee’s late comeback failed against the Los Angeles Lakers in a 122-114 loss despite Giannis finishing with a new career high 41 points.
Milwaukee again afforded their opponent an incredible lead to start the game, trailing by 19 at the half as the Lakers reached 76 points by halftime. That trend continued in the second half, but took a turn in the early fourth quarter as Giannis’ relentlessness helped Milwaukee stage an attempt at salvaging what had been a contest better left at the junkyard to that point. Despite his career night, the Lakers inability to miss early on couldn’t be overcome.
Giannis made tonight a satisfactory watch with a much-needed statistical outburst at 41 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and three blocks. Malcolm Brogdon provided a steadying second scoring presence, finishing with 18 points and three assists while Michael Beasley gave Milwaukee a decent contribution in the first half and ended with 15 points and five rebounds. Thon Maker reached seven points and six rebounds while Khris Middleton continued his slow and steady return with six points, six assists and three steals.
The brick oven Los Angeles Lakers were led by Nick Young, who piped home a number of difficult threes and ended with 26 points on 8-11 shooting, with fellow backcourt fireballer Lou Williams adding 21 points. Julius Randle managed 15 points and seven rebounds with rookie/future Bond villain Ivica Zubac at 15 points, six rebounds and a block.
Amazingly, the Bucks wound up shooting better than the Lakers, ending the night up 52.6% to 52%. The Lakers torched them from the three-point line though, connecting on 15-30 attempts to Milwaukee’s 8-28 showing (28.6%). Milwaukee was able to get back into the game by finding success on fast break points, outscoring the Lakers 11-0 in that area in the second half. Still, the Lakers distinct advantage and sweet-shooting night from outside doomed the Bucks in the end.
The Bucks found themselves in a comfortable hole to start the first, with the Lakers hitting three-pointers and finessing their way past Bucks defenders to reach the hole and open a 17-7 lead before Jason Kidd called an early timeout. Khris Middleton made an early entrance for Thon Maker, and despite Giannis busting out for a few transition buckets, the Lakers hit back with their own fast-break spurts and another D’Angelo Russell three shoved the Bucks back to an unenviable 29-14 deficit just over halfway through the quarter. The Lakers simply didn’t miss in the first quarter, finishing with 81.8% shooting in the first quarter and leading 47-30. Milwaukee shot a competent 57.1%, with Giannis at 13 points, but drowned with each Lakers’ shot making the rim look like an ocean.
An unfamiliar villain continued terrorizing the Bucks in the second quarter, as the Lakers’ Ivica Zubac, treated the Bucks like his minions, hitting shots from all around the rim as the Lakers led 59-47. Most of Milwaukee’s offense came from an invigorated Michael Beasley, who mustered eight points while Giannis sat out the first half of the second quarter. Pure and simple, the Lakers continued to not miss in the second quarter, and had little to no offensive effort outside of Beasley’s battering ram play and Giannis mucking around in the slop. Nick Young got another four point play after Beasley foolishly tapped him on a three, and the Lakers were up 76-55 at halftime.
Giannis had 17 points, Michael Beasley had 12 points, and Milwaukee continued to shoot a country strong 56.8% from the field, but were only 2-12 (18.1%) from beyond the arc. For the Lakers, everything went right as Nick Young led with 15 points, D’Angelo Russell had 15 and future Expendables star Ivica Zubac notched 11.
The Lakers shot 69.2% going into half, including 10-16 (62.5%) from deep, and had 15 points off of 11 Milwaukee turnovers. A bludgeoning if ever there was one.
Michael Beasley and Greg Monroe started the second half in place of John Henson and Thon Maker. Michael Beasley and Greg Monroe starting the second half did not improve the Bucks’ fortunes. Swaggy P dropped in two three-pointers with the Bucks’ ten-point racks right in his grill, and the Lakers led 87-66 halfway through the third before Khris Middleton subbed into the contest. Alas, the sorrow continued for several more minutes, but Thon and Giannis did provide two enjoyable dunk shots. Giannis had some hustle finishes near the rim and Thon splashed in a corner three, but the Lakers continued to hit everything in existence and led 103-84 after three.
Milwaukee finally found firm footing to start the fourth, as Milwaukee went on a 14-0 run on a mix of Teletovic bombing, Giannis driving and Malcolm Brogdon slithering his way to the rim. The Bucks trailed just 105-98 after a Brogdon layup with a little over six minutes to go. Milwaukee stayed in it down the stretch, with Giannis scoring in droves to tie his career high 39 points and eventually finding a cutting Malcolm Brogdon for layup to bring the Bucks within six.
Milwaukee had a chance to bring it within one possession as Giannis grabbed a rebound and dribbled upcourt with 30 seconds to go, but had the ball knocked out from behind him by Larry Nance Jr. The play went to replay, and although it clearly showed Nance whacking Giannis’ arm, they couldn’t call a foul and instead changed the call to give the Lakers the ball. The Bucks nearly got a steal after D’Angelo Russell threw a skip pass down the sideline, but Milwaukee wound up losing 122-114.
- Khris Middleton checked in for Thon Maker at 8:16 in the first quarter, after a stagnant offensive run where Milwaukee’s utter reliance on Giannis to create anything for his teammates resulted in a lukewarm start. Middleton found a cutting Giannis immediately for a dunk.
- Middleton had several impressively patient passes to Giannis in the first quarter. On one, he probed the paint before coolly flipping to Giannis on the baseline, who gave a touch pass to Monroe on the other block for a finish. The other, he held the ball at the arc and waited for Giannis to finsih cutting through the fissure in the Laker’s defense in the paint, and found him for a
- The Lakers’ 47 points in the first quarter was tied for the most points scored by any team in a quarter this season. It’s also the highest scoring first quarter since 1987:
Lakers: 47 points in 1st quarter; highest scoring 1st quarter since Jan. 2, 1987 vs Suns (47 points) pic.twitter.com/9LPe5PrNYR— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 11, 2017
- Giannis had at least three snappy cuts to the hoop in the first period, and while he’s only cutting on a little under 1% less of his plays this season than last season, it’ll be curious to see whether Jabari’s absence opens up more opportunities for him to cut to the paint. Jabari’s presence didn’t preclude him from doing so, but with most of the Bari’s replacements not nearly as proficient on cuts, it may become a more active part of Giannis’ game when he’s not handling the ball.
- Milwaukee was simply atrocious in the first half. It’s getting difficult to even describe the struggles, but tonight was a defensive collapse that allowed a bottom-ten defense to score at a rate that made it look like Luke Walton was back coaching the Warriors.
- Thon Maker started tonight in Jabari Parker’s place and immediately struggled against the strength and quick burst of Julius Randle. It doesn’t feel like Maker has the lateral quickness to handle some of the more active fours in the league at this point, and he’s probably more effective against stretch-fours who don’t have a swift first step. Additionally, he doesn’t have the muscle yet to bang with bowling ball guys like Julius Randle, and he was yanked just four minutes into the game.
- In the third quarter, Jason Kidd put Thon in at center with Giannis, Mirza, Middleton and Brogdon in the game. He looked a lot more impactful at center, where he could stay around the rim to disrupt Laker drives and even finished a botched shot by Mirza Teletovic at the rim on offense. His one-on-one defense against the more polished nemesis on next week’s Taken episode, Zubac, wasn’t great, but certainly wasn’t worse than any of the other Bucks’ centers efforts against him. Later, on one offensive possession, he just stood in the corner, making Zubac look like he was uncomfortably settling into one of those floating pool recliners while floating in space. Giannis found Thon for the three in the corner after working his way to the paint, which was comfortably clean of a center. That’s the kind of play where Thon’s long-term value is obvious. I get why putting Thon in Jabari’s spot could allow for playing time when he’s at a position already chock full of guys, but it really feels like the Bucks should be grooming him for the position that holds his ideal future. If this organization has made every move about finding a proper fit about Giannis, then playing Thon at center is a logical extension of that.
- What was set to be game tape labeled for immediate incineration can instead be remembered as a cogent reminder of where this franchise is even in the wake of Jabari’s injury. Everyone knew that Giannis was the cornerstone piece, and Jabari’s injury really affects the overall potential stratosphere of the organization, but tonight was instructive on how the rest of this season can highlight the star power of Giannis more acutely. He’ll be relied on even more to provide scoring and playmaking, particularly when playing with units like tonight’s starters of Henson, Thon, Delly and Snell. None of those guys can play make on their own, besides maybe Delly, so they’re almost entirely reliant on his skills to carry the team. The Bucks still have an All-Star starter who’s about to have an entire few months of relatively expectation free basketball for providing gaudy stat lines that drill the memory of Jabari’s injury from our brains for the time being.