Fueled by a Tony Snell explosion, Milwaukee bested the Charlotte Hornets last night in a 118-108 contest that appears closer than it ever truly was. While Atlanta’s win over the Suns mean Milwaukee is still tied for the fifth spot, Indiana blew their game against Minnesota late, giving Milwaukee a one-game cushion over them in the standings. The Bucks finish their back-to-back tonight in Boston to face the top-seeded Celtics.
Milwaukee shrugged off a lethargic performance against the Bulls to come out firing away last night. Tony Snell’s game opening dunk seemed to shatter the rim wide open for Milwaukee, and they were shooting above 70% in the first half alone. They ended up at 62.2%, including a deadly 14-30 from three.
Snell was all over the court offensively, driving past Hornets’ defenders for finishes at the rim alongside his usual accompaniment of assisted threes. He wound up with a career-high 26 points, and Giannis chimed in with 20 points and eight rebounds of his own. Khris Middleton had another rough shooting night going 4-12, but still wound up at a plus-29 for the contest. Hopefully tonight’s the night his jumper comes back for him.
It’s been roughly two months since Milwaukee last faced Boston at the end of January, losing a 112-108 contest in overtime. Boston was without Al Horford or Avery Bradley in that one (both are back tonight), but Milwaukee’s offense short-circuited late in the game and they weren’t able to pull it out. Isaiah Thomas gashed Milwaukee’s defense for 37 points and eight assists, while the Celts got off 37 three-point attempts. Containing them on the perimeter will be a top priority. That, and preventing Kelly Olynyk from popping off for 17 gritty points.
Thon Maker also had one of his more impressive sequences of the season against the downsized Boston Celtics that night. Let’s reflect on that briefly:
THON MAKER COMES ALIVE! pic.twitter.com/3woGSCW9nV— FrankMadden (@fmaddenNBA) January 29, 2017
The Eastern Conference playoff picture is far from solidified, and Boston is still very much in play for Milwaukee’s first round series should they get in. Tonight will be a fine measuring test against the current class of the Eastern Conference.
John Henson is still listed as out tonight with that pesky thumb sprain.
Boston is sitting atop the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Cavaliers by virtue of playing one more game than them. They’ve won four in a row, and eight out of ten, including a narrow one over the Heat on Sunday, 112-108. The Celtics won behind a season-high 25 points from Jae Crowder and 30 points from the diminutive Isaiah Thomas, 20 of which came in the second half.
Despite missing Al Horford and Avery Bradley for 39 combined games this season, Thomas has held the squad afloat with a stunning offensive season. Per-36, he’s averaging 30.8 points and 6.3 assists while also shooting nearly 38% from deep on 8.9 attempts. Not to mention his 43.8% free throw rate where he happens to shoot 91.1% for the year. Plus, he’s at a career-high 34.0% usage rate and 62.3% true shooting, all complemented by a career-low 10.3% turnover percentage. All of those numbers have him among the second-tier of MVP candidates, and he’s pushed this offense to the 8th best in the league.
Of course, Thomas can also be a liability on defense. Boston tried hiding him on Tony Snell last game, knowing Snell’s lack of playmaking wouldn’t hurt them too much. It will be interesting to see how often the Bucks try to attack that matchup given Snell’s outburst last night. Additionally, Greg Monroe has been a big part of Milwaukee’s attack the last two years against Boston’s often center-less frontline. Al Horford’s presence gives them a better counterweight to Monroe’s bruising attack, but I still expect Monroe to try and feast on their poor defensive rebounding.
Boston shoots 33 three-pointers per game, third highest in the league. That’s never a great sign for a Bucks’ defense known to give them up, and as stated above, they’ll have to do a better job preventing Isaiah Thomas from penetrating and kicking while running their fleet of shooters off the line.
Jonas Jerebko is listed as probable for tonight’s game with left knee soreness.