Placing a temporary kibosh on the negative narratives swirling around the Bucks since early January, Milwaukee goes into the All-Star Break on a three-game winning streak after putting away a pesky Brooklyn Nets team, 129-125.
The defensive aptitude of the last game gave way to a scoring affair rather quickly, as Brooklyn’s three-heavy attack fared far better against the Bucks’ scheme than the Pacers and Pistons. However, Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to his scoring ways after a quiet game against Detroit, Khris Middleton played big minutes in a return to form and the Bucks staved off a late push from Brooklyn to emerge with a modicum of optimism heading into the break.
Giannis Antetokounmpo decided to take it to the rack every chance tonight, finishing with 33 points, nine rebounds, three assists, four steals and a block. Greg Monroe again had a stellar scoring night with 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals, but the biggest development may’ve been the “he’s back” game from Khris Middleton with a comfortingly familiar 20 points, three rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
Brook Lopez starred for the Nets, finishing with a three-heavy night with 36 points and 6-10 from deep. Trevor Booker played second fiddle for 18 points and five rebounds and Spencer Dinwiddie came up big in the fourth quarter to end with 19 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
Both squads shot hot all night, with Milwaukee (56.8%) beating Brooklyn (52.3%) in the end even with a meager 7-15 performance from deep compared to the Nets’ successful 14-36 (38.9%) night. The Bucks capitalized on the Nets’ 17 turnovers on the night for 24 points, and beat the Nets in fast break points 27-14. Milwaukee survived a night when they shot just 68.8% from the free throw line on 32 attempts, but none of those misses came courtesy of Khris Middleton, who iced the game on two straight trips with four straight makes.
Offensive fireworks exploded early, with Brook Lopez clanking in three quick three-pointers and Milwaukee answering with an aggressive Giannis looking to score before Brooklyn could get set. When that didn’t work, he abused the old ankles of Randy Foye and suspect ankles of Brook Lopez with backdoor cuts and his church door frame. Milwaukee led 18-16 at the first break after a Thon Maker three and Giannis backdoor finish. Khris Middleton entered and dropped a golden dime to a cutting Greg Monroe, but the Nets’ hot shooting from the arc kept them ahead 27-26. Milwaukee ended the quarter ahead 39-33 after Middleton nailed an isolation fadeaway jumper. The Bucks hit 71.4% on the quarter, with Greg Monroe feasting at the rim for 12 points, but the Nets had pristine looks from outside going 5-13, and could’ve certainly hit a few more.
Milwaukee pounded ahead in the second, with Giannis furiously flying past Brooklyn defenders at every opportunity for finesse finishes at the rim to give Milwaukee a 12-point cushion. A Trevor Booker barrage against Giannis on the right wing somehow resulted in six points, and after Brook Lopez re-entered and went to the line for an and-one, to bring Nets back within six. The Nets continued to claw back, and Milwaukee led by merely two at halftime, 62-60, after Greg Monroe tipped-in a Giannis miss near the buzzer.
Giannis led the team with 17 points and five boards, most of those coming at the rim with Greg Monroe scoring the same way to reach 15 points. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 22 points including 4-6 shooting from three, and Bojan Bogdanovic added 12 points with Trevor Booker chipping in 10.
Milwaukee shot 52.4% for the half to Brooklyn’s 46.8%, but the Nets nailed seven threes to keep them in it. The Bucks were able to get out and run, notching 15 fast break points to the Nets’ five and outscoring them inside with a 12-point advantage in the paint at 34-22.
Giannis ran over the Nets’ defense to start the third, fighting his way to the basket and stealing lazy cross-court passes from Brooklyn. After going up by 13 on a Beasley baseline jumper, the Nets worked it back to a 77-70 game after a Sean Kilpatrick three. They got it down to a four-point game but Khris Middleton posted his most promising sequence yet with two contested shots, a steal against Trevor Booker in the post and a smooth three from the right wing to make it 87-77. Milwaukee finished out the quarter up 95-82 as Giannis bookended the quarter with a skying slam off a dish from Khris Middleton.
The continual Brooklyn mini-runs continued with a Trevor Booker hook getting them within seven, but Malcolm Brogdon nailed a three off a handoff to put Milwaukee up 104-94. Few could’ve predicted the ensuing shootout, but Rashad Vaughn and Joe Harris went head-to-head on scoring sprees, with Vaughn nailing a layup and three while Harris hit a contested finish and two threes, the latter of which made it 113-106 Milwaukee. After the least well-known duelists in history finished their scoring spat, the Nets hit back-to-back threes from Spencer Dinwiddie and, of course, Brook Lopez and Milwaukee’s lead was down to 117-115 with three to go.
Giannis hit a pull-up jumper over Lopez out of the break, and found Greg Monroe several possessions later for a free shot at the rim to give the Bucks a four-point lead. Spencer Dinwiddie scored four straight in this stretch, and a Khris Middleton shot that fell short was picked up mid-air, 1983 NC State championship style, by Giannis for a bucket to make it 125-121. Khris Middleton calmly bucketed two free throws after a Nets score to keep it at a four-point contest. Milwaukee finished them off 129-125.
Michael Beasley is looking at every defender in front of him and seeing 12 oz. steaks. He’s had that mentality his whole career, but he was looking to score any time tonight in isolation. He’s Country Crock smooth when his shot’s going in. Still, offense wasn’t the issue tonight, and there’s a reason Milwaukee needed Middleton in the game down the stretch.
Rashad Vaughn checked into the game in place of Jason Terry for the first quarter. He let Whitehead slip by him too easily to start, but rebounded in the second quarter with a decent contest of a Joe Harris shot in the second and had a near block and contest of a Justin Hamilton shot at the rim. He continued the serviceable defense in the second half when he got more run.
Giannis’ continued aggressiveness tonight was a welcome change from his fraternizing with facilitation he past few games. I love passing Giannis as much as the next guy, when the Nets are trotting out inferior defenders against him all night, he should look to attack every time. And he did, finishing with 25 shots.
The Nets’ court and jerseys generally make for some of the most aesthetically pleasing games in the league, but tonight was a particularly classy affair with the Bucks’ black Fear the Deer jerseys playing nicely off the Nets’ bleach white jerseys with skinny black trim. Big fan.
Brook Lopez had two sub-par games against the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season, going 7-29 in those two matches. He more than made up for that tonight with a dominating performance down low and from the outside. His slick shooting night flies in the face of his 33% shooting percentage from three on the year, but he was hitting everything the Bucks gave him tonight. Inside, neither Monroe nor Maker could keep him from getting to the free throw line or looping in shots beneath the basket and he finished 12-20.
Khris Middleton had his best sequence since his return in the third quarter of this game. First, he hit a looping runner from the left side, followed by a contested jumper from the free throw line and poked out the ball from Trevor Booker in the post after battling him. Lastly, he ended with a three-pointer from the right wing. It’s been surprising how well he’s been able to create his own shot since coming back from his injury, since I presumed he wouldn’t be able to get the separation needed, but he doesn’t need much to get his shot off.
Rashad Vaughn made a left handed rifle pass to a galloping Monroe in transition for a layup finish. I don’t think I’ve seen him make any pass with that level of difficulty with his right hand, let alone his left. He followed that up with a finish at the rim and a pull-up three. As fans will recall, Vaughn’s standout game this year came in the second game of the season also against Brooklyn when he went off for 22 points.
Khris Middleton provided a steadying presence for this Bucks team down the stretch, and I feel far more comfortable with the ball in his hands than Dellavedova when he’s trying to create something. Even if Middleton settles for a difficult midranger, that feels like a better shot than most of the stuff Milwaukee’s been getting all season in clutch situations. He also played 26 minutes tonight, including 13 straight minutes of game time from the third quarter into partway through the fourth. I have no clue what his minutes limit is at this point, so we’ll just have to trust the organization that they know how far he can push it, but nights like this illustrate how integral it is he doesn’t re-injure that hamstring.
After enjoying a night off from having the corners worked to exhaustion by their opponents, Milwaukee looked set to have their defense’s most glaring weakness exploited once again as Brooklyn got seven attempts from those corner threes in the first quarter. They limited it to only three attempts in the second quarter, and the Bucks allowed only one more attempt from the corners all night from Brooklyn to finish with merely 11 on the night. Still not ideal, but in-game progression is more than welcome right now.
Giannis matched up against Brook Lopez in the final few minutes, presumably to guard against his ability to shoot from the perimeter or use his rickety pump fake to bumble his way to the hoop. Greg Monroe took on Trevor Booker instead, and Giannis’ athleticism helped curb Lopez’s ability, which had gobbled up Bucks’ bigs all night.