The Los Angeles Clippers are a good basketball team, despite having underperformed for a fair portion of this season. The Milwaukee Bucks are an okay basketball team, and have fallen short as often as they’ve exceeded expectations. Tonight was a night where the Clippers fell short and the Bucks took an unexpected victory, where the game went right down to the final seconds before Milwaukee was credited with a 97-96 win.
Six Bucks scored in double figures, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo (16 points / 5 assists / 5 rebounds) and Khris Middleton (16 points / 7 rebounds). DeAndre Jordan was the surprising lead scorer for the Clippers (22 points / 17 rebounds), who got a surprisingly poor showing from their trio of point guards (Chris Paul, Austin Rivers, and Raymond Felton scored a combined 10 points on 4-22 from the field).
The game started encouragingly enough, with both Giannis and Tony Snell making midrange jumpers before Khris Middleton sank a shot clock-beating three. But they had also given up several easy looks at the rim, left Blake Griffin open for a corner three, and fouled J.J. Redick on another.
Neither team was particularly impressive for the better part of the opening period, with a handful of blown layups, clanked threes, and mistimed passes. But the biggest miscue was (once again) Giannis committing two fouls and getting himself prematurely sent to the bench. Even more maddening is that neither foul was necessary; one was a reckless closeout on a J.J. Redick pump fake, and the other was an obvious charge against Blake Griffin (who folded like a deck chair, but that’s neither here nor there).
An 11-0 run in the final minutes of the first quarter (largely led on both ends by Greg Monroe) provided some positive energy for the Bucks, starting off the second period with a 28-20 lead. As it happens so often with Milwaukee, that momentum was stalled over the opening segment of the second quarter, and our thirst for buckets was only quenched by a Delly corner 3 (which led to an astounding Giannis block on the defensive end).
The Clippers’ aggression helped them close the gap, and in the first half LA had a 15-0 lead in free throw attempts. A Jordan hook shot evened the score at 37-all, and another cheap Giannis foul (seriously, Giannis!) sent the Bucks’ All Star to the bench while Los Angeles claimed a first-half lead.
With Giannis momentarily absent, Malcolm Brogdon was the Buck to start asserting himself, playing admirable defense on Chris Paul while taking it right at the Point God on defense. After facilitating a sweeping Moose hook shot, both teams retired to their locker rooms with the game tied 46-46.
To start the second half, Jason Kidd brought the starters back out, where they promptly earned their first free throw! It was off of a defensive three second call, but still. On the next trip down, Giannis wormed his way into the lane to earn two more foul shots, and a Brogdon/Thon rookie-corner-three-combo forced Doc Rivers to take an early timeout with the Bucks holding a 55-48 lead. DeAndre Jordan sealed off the rim with two massive blocks, helping fuel the Clippers’ recovery to a 60-60 tie.
Milwaukee’s momentum started to erode with an unbelievable Jamal Crawford midrange and-one (because I can’t believe the ref gave him that call), but a gritty Moose post bucket helped the Bucks escape the third quarter down only two points (69-67).
The Bucks and Clippers bench units beat up on one another for the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, featuring a Telly corner three, a Mo Speights spinning drive for a layup, and a hilarious Austin Rivers missed dunk. Khris Middleton took it upon himself to earn some points, and his efforts at the free throw line helped Milwaukee retake the lead on a 7-0 run.
Middleton’s aggressive attacks helped push the Clippers over the foul limit at the 7:00 mark of the fourth quarter, which put the Bucks in a strong position to be able to manufacture points as the game moved towards a conclusion. Milwaukee continued to harass the Clips’ offense and force enough mistakes to prevent Los Angeles from getting into a rhythm.
Giannis finally returned to the court, but Blake Griffin quickly drove on him for an awkward layup plus a free throw to close the Milwaukee lead to 83-82. Giannis probed the defense and blew by DeAndre Jordan for an (unconverted) and-one of his own. After a few more traded baskets, a wild Giannis pass turned into another Delly three to give the Bucks a bit of cushion.
A 24-second violation and a wild CP3 pass helped the Bucks run some clock down, and Giannis earned another pair of free throws with 2:17 in regulation. On the next trip, Giannis got tied up DeAndre Jordan and managed to turn a presumed jump ball into two more foul shots.
But Giannis only went 2-4 on those trips, and J.J. Redick hit a gutsy three to cut the L.A. deficit in half. However, after taking forever to consider launching a three of his own, Giannis instead passed to Dellavedova, who hit the deep shot to re-extend the lead to 97-91. Then another Jordan dunk brought the lead back down to four, and a weak Delly foul on DeAndre resulted in a converted and-one that quickly made the game 97-96 with 30.1 left.
A standstill Milwaukee offensive possession resulted in a missed pull-up jumper from Giannis, giving the Clippers possession with 5.2 seconds left. Blake Griffin ended up sandwiched between two defenders in the lane, and wasn’t able to convert the final shot of the game.
Thoughts & Tidbits
Happy birthday, Jabari Parker!
I know I got on Giannis for a needless early foul, but few players have as quick of a shot-loading movement as J.J. Redick. Twice in the first quarter, he was able to quick-twitch his way into otherwise-bogus shooting foul calls. Uncharacteristically, though, he only went 3/5 from the FT line on those two plays.
Allow me to editorialize for a hot second: I hate hate HATE the State Farm commercials starring CP3 and DeAndre Jordan. I know they’re supposed to be cheesy, with the proverbial tongue firmly placed in the proverbial cheek. Still, though. Their acting chops seem to extend only as far as goading officials to call phantom fouls on the court. Don’t y’all have people that handle your insurance claims?!
Khris Middleton started the game, and didn’t exit until around the 8:30 mark in the second quarter. If anybody is worried about his conditioning after coming back from injury, I would ask which Khris Middleton they’re watching, because he looks juuuust fine.
Jamal Crawford doesn’t age. No, scratch that, he looks younger than he did as a rookie (all the way back in the year 2000). I don’t understand.
Blake Griffin has changed so much since his rookie year. This isn’t an original observation, but having not seen him play in a while, I had forgotten that he’s no longer the explosive rim-wrecker he was a few years back. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor had a great piece in August about how Griffin’s shot selection has evolved, and he’s still really good...but it somehow doesn’t feel like enough.
Bonus editorialization time! This is the first national broadcast game I’ve watched since the Bucks’ last national broadcast (01/06 vs. the Knicks), and I have forgotten how much I hate all commercials. What are these movies? Why are taco shells made out of Doritos now? Why do we need military-grade pickup trucks with our fake-looking burgers? At least the Andersons were able to get tickets to the game (once again), which put me right back in my repetitive-League-Pass-commercial comfort zone.
Is it just me, or is Malcolm Brogdon really good at attacking closeouts? I’m not sure if the stats bear this out, but he seems so balanced and knows exactly when to freeze his momentum, then launch himself past the now out-of-position opponent.
When he’s recovering in transition to set up on defense, Thon Maker is really fast. He seems to be constantly accelerating, which is really something for a 7’1” human to do.
Did you know Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could shoot? I don’t remember that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could shoot. I guess Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can shoot.
...Okay, the Reese’s commercial with the bunny and the peanut butter and the Marvin Gaye made me chuckle.
Foul trouble aside, it’s really fun to hear national broadcasters fawn over Giannis. Doug Collins seemed particularly impressed with some of Antetokounmpo’s plays, and it makes me jealous of the non-Milwaukee people who are just now starting to find out what Giannis is capable of.
Kidd started the fourth quarter with Dellavedova-Terry-Middleton-Teletovic-Henson. I didn’t like it, and neither did you, but it somehow didn’t all fall apart. That lineup did play together until the 5:35 mark in the fourth quarter, making it yet another bench lineup that played way longer than many would expect (or want).
At the 3:00 mark of the fourth quarter, the Bucks displayed one of their more impressive defensive efforts in recent memory. After forcing the ball to move back to the top of the key, Blake Griffin got the ball isolated against Malcolm Brogdon, who bodied him up and forced Griffin to pass to Chris Paul in the corner, where Matthew Dellavedova harassed him into an airball three, and the Clippers lost possession on the shot clock violation. Jason Kidd was eager to show his approval, standing at half court clapping with more energy than LaVar Ball talks about his sons.
There’s another “Fast and the Furious” movie?! Why is there a submarine?!
With a win tonight, Milwaukee moves to 1-1 on the first third of this six-game road trip, and 33-34 on the year. More importantly, they’re now 11-4 in their last fifteen games, and are now planted in the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, and are only 1.5 games back of the 6th-seeded Indiana Pacers.
With only fifteen games remaining (and ten on the road), every matchup counts for this playoff-chasing Bucks team. To that end, Milwaukee will stick around in Los Angeles for a matchup against the (finally-tanking) Lakers on Friday night.