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Bucks vs. Lakers Final Score: Milwaukee Hangs On 107-103

Milwaukee departs the fabled Staples Center with their second victory in as many attempts this season.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the Bucks’ first Los Angeles road game, they surprised many by escaping with a win against the Clippers. Tonight, in their second L.A. contest, there were no surprises as Milwaukee ran out to a huge lead...only to watch it nearly slip away, as the Bucks bested the Lakers 107-103.

The Bucks were led by Khris Middleton (30 points on 11/18 shooting and 8/9 FT) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points on 11/16 shooting, plus 8 rebounds / 5 assists / 2 blocks), plus sizable first half contributions from Greg Monroe (12 points / 6 rebounds / 3 assists / 3 blocks) and Tony Snell (10 points / 5 boards). Despite the efficient night from their starts, the Bucks were ice-cold from the field (4/24 from deep), which hampered their ability to establish a comfortable cushion.

The Lakers were erratic from start to finish, but still had six players record double-digit points. Los Angeles was led by Jordan Clarkson (21 points), Ivica Zubac (18 points), and Nick Young (16 points), and never quit despite trailing by as much as eighteen in the second half.

The game started with lackadaisical defense on both sides, which was both typical and troubling. Giannis was aggressive early, but the Milwaukee starters failed to generate much movement (of the ball or of players) before the shot clock ran low, even more than normal. Milwaukee regained some balance once Greg Monroe checked in, and Moose’s quick hooves hands generated some fast break opportunities for the Bucks’ wings.

The Bucks’ bench created a number of turnovers as the opening period wound down, and Monroe carried the team with 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 1 assist, and the first quarter concluded with a 31-24 Milwaukee lead. The young Laker frontcourt seemed unable (or uninterested) in showing much resistance down low, and Moose was only too happy to take advantage of his opportunities.

Mirza Teletovic came out guns-blazing in the second quarter, and dropped in a jumper from the Bluth Company model home to maintain a seven-point lead. D’Angelo Russell answered with a three of his own, but Telly came back in the most obvious fashion: backing down Corey Brewer on the left block, drawing a foul in the process.

Giannis joined the block party on offense by returning to the game and diving back into the lane, scoring two quick post buckets (including a converted and-one). A silly Russell turnover (which he’s known for) gave Milwaukee possession immediately thereafter, as the Bucks had extended their lead to 44-33.

The Lakers demonstrated their pass-first tendencies as the second quarter continued, and got the fans in the front rows involved by continually passing them the ball. These L.A. ticketholders clearly didn’t come prepared, though, as every single person in attendance failed to score a bucket for the whole game!

John Henson continued his stretch of competent play by exploiting the Lakers interior defense in the second quarter, and drew a few fouls to boot. One of them caused Swaggy P to lose his cool and get T’d up, and the resulting free throws extended the Bucks’ lead to 53-40. The Laker defensive effort seemed to wane from that point on, as they showed no interest in stopping Milwaukee’s steady bombardment of drives and cuts to the rim, and the first half closed with a fifteen-point Bucks lead (61-46).

Following intermission, both teams continued the trends of the game to that point. The Bucks stayed aggressive, with Giannis leading the charge (14 points in the third quarter). The Lakers matched the Bucks’ energy, but wasn’t coordinated enough to gain any ground. A Greek Freak three extended the score to 69-53 in favor of Milwaukee, and a fast break layup later on pushed the lead to 18.

Suddenly, the Lakers showed up. Nick Young hit some extremely Nick Young shots, and Larry Nance Jr. used his length to manufacture looks at the basket, and the Bucks’ lead was cut down to eight points late in the third quarter. The Bucks recovered and re-made a ten-point lead, but the game had very quickly become a game again.

Then, for a moment, all hell broke loose.

Malcom Brogdon committed a hard foul on Nick Young to stop a fast break layup, and Young pushed back at the rookie to rebuke him. Greg Monroe was trailing the play, and immediately laid into Young, which set off a skirmish that would have cleared the benches in another age of basketball. A lengthy replay/cooling-off period ensued, and resulted in an ejection for Monroe (pushing) and Russell (pushing), as well as a second technical foul/ejection for Young (pushing).

A late Jordan Clarkson three brought the Laker crowd back into the game in time for the third quarter buzzer, and reduced the Milwaukee lead to seven points (84-77). The energy in the building to start the final period was palpable, even a few thousand miles away, but Khris Middleton’s steady hand helped steel the Bucks’ nerves. Middleton straight-up silenced the crowd with a flurry of midrange jumpers and post bucket rebuttals...but Nance Jr. revived the people with a missed push-off foul a near posterization of John Henson.

As it was in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo started the fourth quarter on the bench. With a tough game looming after tonight, it wasn’t surprising to see Giannis remain seated, but this time Jason Kidd reinserted him at the 6:51 mark in the 4th, before the game fully lost control. Some fans may think that this wasn’t soon enough, but Middleton’s offensive outburst mitigated Giannis’ absence.

Missing their closing center, the Bucks were teetering on the brink. Another three from Clarkson fueled a 7-0 Laker run, and brought the score all the way to 99-93 before Tony Snell drew a loose ball foul on Julius Randle. After trading some baskets, the Bucks brought Khris Middleton back into the game at the 2:38 mark to give Milwaukee as strong chance at closing out the game.

But the Bucks were tentative. They played to avoid losing rather than seize victory, and it very nearly earned Milwaukee the loss. Costly turnovers and needless fouls down the stretch turned a ten-point lead into four, and a 1/2 trip to the line from Randle whittled it down to three with 6.6 seconds remaining. Fortunately, the unflappable Malcolm Brogdon hit two free throws to push the lead back out beyond a single possession, which was crucial since Jordan Clarkson hit another three pointer.

Immediately receiving the inbounds pass and a Laker foul, Khris Middleton proved he was money from the line, hitting two more foul shots to extend the lead to 107-103, and Milwaukee was able to escape victorious from the Staples Center again.

Thoughts & Tidbits

It was a pivotal moment in the game, when Monroe got tossed for shoving. Not only did Milwaukee lose one of its leading scorers, but the Lakers lost one of their most dynamic scorers (Young) and playmakers (Russell). Conventional wisdom may decide that Milwaukee had the advantage since they only lost one player, but the Bucks’ lack of dynamism in the middle sans-Moose was obvious.

Giannis played this game looking for his shot, which is exactly what he should have done against a weak opponent. But an unnecessary offensive foul in both the first two minutes and the last two minutes is another demonstration of his still-developing game.

Thon Maker showed off better-than-advertised court vision in the first quarter, dishing on-point passes to Giannis and Tony Snell for layups. If he can continue to show off the capability to make smart passes, he will continue to be a more-useful prospect than many of us expected.

Brandon Ingram is years away from becoming a relevant NBA player, and it’s no fault of his own. He’s so dang skinny and weak that no amount of skill or savvy makes up for it; he just can’t hold his own right now. In two years? His story will likely take a different direction.

Marques Johnson said that “John Henson needs to be more aware of where he is on the floor” while discussing a second-quarter turnover. I will simply agree with Marques and not call any more attention to his choice of words when discussing a John Henson miscue.

Is it just me, or do Bucks players respond more quickly when one of their own hits the deck? It might be completely manufactured in my brain, but I feel like everybody races to be the first one to help up a teammate, and it makes me jump to all sorts of crazy conclusions about how great their chemistry is and how many consecutive games they’re going to win as a result.

I don’t know what Julius Randle is as a basketball player, but I’m irrationally confident that there’s something there. He’s got too many tools not to turn into something good.

A Middleton iso from the triple-threat position inside the arc is borderline automatic right now. It’s absurd how easily he can rock a defender to sleep with some minute jab steps before he splashes a jump shot in their face.

I love Marques Johnson-Gus Johnson games. No elaboration is necessary.

Our friend Eric Nehm recently opined on Twitter and Locked On Bucks about Giannis’ tendency to attempt dunks that Humans have no business attempting. Larry Nance Jr. is cut from a similar cloth, and extended all the way out to try and put one down on Greg Monroe, and later did the same thing to John Henson.

Thomas Robinson turns 26 today! Thomas Robinson also plays for the L.A. Lakers. Those are two facts I was unaware of until today.

In the game preview thread, I noted that this game against the Lakers felt necessary for the Bucks to have any credible claim to a place at the playoff table. A six-game West Coast road trip is far from ideal during the stretch run of the season, but locale matters less than taking care of business against a less-than-competitive Laker squad.

With two wins in their pocket and three more games to go before returning to the Central Time Zone, the Bucks are in prime position to pursue more than just a token playoff appearance. Many fans posited that a 2-4 finish to this trip was an optimistic view. Well, we already have the win count halfway through.

And if you still don’t believe the Bucks have zagged when everybody else saw them zigging, take a step back and recognize that despite everything, the Bucks are now a .500 basketball team! Who knew?

Despite recent success, the Bucks cannot afford to get in their own way like they did tonight. Luckily for them, Milwaukee travels overnight to Northern California and take on the Golden State Warriors tomorrow at 9:30pm (central time). See you then!