Many teams rest some of their starters late in the season in preparation for the playoffs, but the Bucks weren’t planning on giving theirs that luxury in the second half of these last two blow-out losses. Unfortunately, putrid offensive performances have forced Kidd to pull them early, and on a “Win and they’re in” night against Indiana, Milwaukee fell apart again in a 104-89 loss.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s impassioned play did little to inspire similar performances from his teammates, although he ended the night with 25 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one steal. Mirza Teletovic was his prime running mate, finishing out with 5-8 shooting from deep to hit 15 points. Khris Middleton fouled out late, and looked lost in the halfcourt from his first awkward jumper over Monta Ellis. He reached just 10 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Paul George played by far his best game against Milwaukee this year, finishing out with 23 points, ten rebounds and four steals. Jeff Teague pierced Milwaukee’s defense repeatedly, finding outside shooters en route to 15 points and seven assists. Thaddeus Young tacked on 12 points, 11 boards and three assists.
The Bucks kept it close in the first by riding Giannis’ fearsome finishes at the rim, but their inability to control the ball led to a turnover potpourri that gave Indiana easy buckets. After cutting it to a two-point game with eight minutes to go in the third, Milwaukee buckled and let Indiana run away with it. 21 turnovers by Milwaukee led to 29 points for the Pacers, and the Bucks only found 18 points off the equally messy 17 turnovers by Indiana. Just eight of those were live ball turnovers. The Bucks shot respectably from deep (45.8%, 11-24 shooting), but the Pacers’ 12 additional free throw attempts and +12 night on the boards gave them enough opportunities to bury Milwaukee.
Giannis Antetokounmpo felt particularly offended by Indiana’s rims tonight, starting the game off with a series of patient sequences beneath the hoop and aggressive drives in transition that led to ferocious dunks and an early 12-8 lead for Milwaukee. A dry spell followed, and seven straight missed shots helped Indiana take back a two-point lead. Giannis broke that streak with an alley-oop from Gary Payton II, but the Bucks trailed 25-21 after one despite 12 loud points from Giannis.
Milwaukee finally started hitting perimeter shots to start the second after just one make outside the paint in the first. Two threes from Mirza Teletovic and Middleton helped cut the Pacers lead to just three. After Milwaukee briefly took the lead on a scrambling GP II dunk, Indiana responded by Paul George crossing up Payton for a jumper and slamming home an off-target pass from Tony Snell to go up 42-38. Indiana capitalized on Milwaukee’s gaffes, taking a 10-point lead as the Bucks’ offense looked out of sorts. Giannis found his way to the foul line late in the second to help Milwaukee trail just 56-50 at the half.
Giannis led Milwaukee with 16 points, four rebounds and two assists, while Mirza Teletovic went 3-4 from deep to notch nine points. Paul George paced Indiana with 13 points, six rebounds and two steals and Myles Turner backed him up with eight points of his own.
The Bucks shot just 47.4% for the half with Indiana at an even 50.0%. Indiana hit 12-17 from the free throw line, while the Bucks got the line just eight times, all of which came from Giannis. 11 turnovers for Milwaukee didn’t help the game’s aesthetic or the Bucks’ points, and Indiana scored 14 points off those errors.
Giannis opened the second half by weaving his way to the rim, drawing another foul on Turner and converting an and-one to narrow Indiana’s lead to 63-61. As was the case in the first half, Indiana recovered, going on a 13-0 run sparked by Paul George jumpers and Monta Ellis splashing in a corner three after unimpeded penetration by Teague. Milwaukee made a late push with Telly and Snelly dropping in deep jumpers, but the Bucks trailed 85-73 after three.
Kidd opted to downsize to start the fourth, using an Antetokounmpo-Teletovic frontline. Again, Milwaukee’s offense sputtered out, ending most possessions with an unfavorable isolation look. Giannis chose not to attack Thaddeus Young off the dribble, and settled for an airball against Lance Stephenson. Khris Middleton fouled out by bowling over Pacers on his trip to the hoop. Nothing good came from it, and the starters were pulled with six minutes to go in the fourth. Garbage time featured an eclectic mix of chucks from Rashad Vaughn, but the Bucks didn’t dent the Pacers’ lead and lost 104-89.
- Khris Middleton had Monta Ellis guarding him on the defensive end to start the game. Unsurprisingly, Middleton relished the height advantage and used it to his advantage by posting up the former Bucks’ guard and dropping a clunky looking jumper over the diminutive volume shooter.
- Thon Maker pulled off a pump fake, drive and finish in the first quarter as Myles Turner flew by him into the first row. His off the dribble game is still percolating, so a controlled finish by him as he contorted around Jeff Teague to avoid an offensive foul showed a refreshing amount of skill by the rookie. Later, he flashed patience by taking Turner into the post from the perimeter and hooking in a finish.
- Milwaukee made only one shot outside the paint in the first quarter, a deep three from Khris Middleton. Their cold streak led to a poor first quarter, but knocking down four three-pointers in the second didn’t help either, as turnovers ruined any potential for fluid offense.
- We’ve said it all season, but Giannis’ patience and strength in the paint is truly something to behold. In the first quarter he simply barreled Myles Turner, a stout man, out of the way before jamming it home. As the ball went through, he draped his arm across Turner’s body and unleashed a primal scream. Not only does he get the ball up just in time to avoid a three-second violation, but defenders are powerless to stop him from ascending above their arms for a dunk.
- After a clean first quarter, Milwaukee bumbled the ball away nine times in the second. Sloppy passes gave Indiana prime looks going the other way and helped them carve out their decent lead going into halftime.
- Giannis’ improved free throw rate this season became an even more potent weapon tonight as he drew fouls against Myles Turner and Paul George beneath the hoop. He forced five fouls from the Pacers in the first half alone, four of those coming in the waning minutes of the second. They had little chance of stopping him, and his bulked-up build gave him every advantage to net fouls on the Pacers’ two best players. Any team with a star defender who also matches up with Giannis should be an automatic trigger for Antetokounmpo to take them to the rack to try and rack up their fouls. He also had 13 of the Bucks’ 14 free throw attempts on the night.
- It was a rough start to the game for Tony Snell. He seemed to fumble the ball away whenever he got it, and if he tried to create something off the dribble it ended in disaster. He redeemed himself somewhat in the third quarter by finishing a tough shot through contact on Myles Turner and then hitting two open threes off Giannis passes.
- Greg Monroe’s been having some issues handling the ball lately. Tonight in the third quarter he just lost his footing and rolled to the ground as the ball feebly bounced away for his fourth turnover of the game. He’s averaging nearly a turnover more than his season average (1.7) over the last five games and ended with four tonight. His passing doesn’t look as crisp when he doesn’t have his balletic partner Brogdon out there.
- Milwaukee went small to start the fourth quarter with Terry-Vaughn-Middleton-Teletovic-Antetokounmpo. Kevin Seraphin played the nominal center for Indiana. The gambit failed, due mainly to bland offensive sets with little movement and passive possessions from Giannis. Despite a wide-open lane, Giannis failed to attack Thaddeus Young off the dribble and settled for a jumper that airballed against Stephenson on the perimeter. Middleton forced a runner on the next possession too. Ugly isolation ball isn’t exactly the style one would hope for with a smallball lineup.
- During those opening minutes of the fourth, Rashad Vaughn had a crosscourt pass go between his hands despite finding himself in perfect position to steal the ball. At least he hit some shots in garbage time...
- Khris Middleton fouled out of tonight’s game, and couldn’t find any semblance of his usual free-flowing offensive success. It’s only the third time he’s fouled out in the past three seasons. His final two fouls came on back-to-back possessions where he was called for a charge. Forcing the issue with little success feels like a fitting description of this Bucks’ team tonight.
- For the second straight night, Jason Kidd pulled the starters early. Tonight was merely six minutes, preferable to the 18 against OKC. Either way, having to pull starters on a night when they knew a win would clinch a playoff berth is disheartening. The Pacers now move within one game of Milwaukee, and the Bucks head to Philadelphia for a contest one should hope the starters can rest in again late, this time with a comfortable lead in tow.