After yesterday’s murderous matinee against Miami, I wasn’t expecting a great Milwaukee Bucks follow-up against the Washington Wizards. Instead, they kept it close and vaulted ahead in similar fashion to their last Wizards contest, winning out 104-95. Following the first quarter, Milwaukee notched an early lead but saw it disappear beneath a scoring burst from the Wizards who led 30-28 after one. The Bucks managed to claw their way to a minimal two point lead at halftime, 53-51, after Malcolm Brogdon raced downcourt for a nifty lay-in before the buzzer. The Bucks built up a decent lead after a poor start to the third quarter, but the Wizards sent home a buzzer-beater of their own to end the period as Milwaukee led 78-72. Washington kept it close in the fourth, but Giannis Antetokounmpo helped finish this one out with a strong victory for the Bucks while going for 27 points, 20 rebounds (!) and six assists.
Three Main Observations
Taking Care of Turnovers
The Bucks took far better advantage of the Wizards’ gaffes than against the Heat. With just two points on 15 Miami turnovers Sunday, today’s first quarter alone netted Milwaukee eight points on a sloppy six turnovers for the Wiz. They reaped the rewards of some shoddy passing and didn’t bungle the fast breaks, as was the case several times in Miami. Washington had a whopping 17 turnovers alone in the first half and ended the game with 24, leading to 25 points for Milwaukee.
Brown Makes Baby Steps
Sterling Brown continues to look like the type of guard Milwaukee has been searching for all year. While his impact remains relatively muted in the box score (five points and two steals), he took plenty of chances guarding both John Wall and Bradley Beal today. He looked more than up to the task too, his bulky body able to generally deter them from finishes at the hoop while his wingspan bothered Beal along the sidelines at times. His penchant for jumping passing lanes was useful too and he even knocked home a corner three to boot. His slight ascendance comes at a useful time, as Tony Snell has been in a relative slump since coming back from the knee injury that ailed him. He’s also still a rookie though, erring by smacking Tomas Satoransky in the face on a 3-point attempt and drawing blood as Satoransky walked back to the bench. Subsequently, Wall roasted him on a patient crossover near the hoop.
Eric Bledsoe had a mammoth second half and in particular fourth quarter for the Bucks today. After going just 1-4 in the first half, he came out firing and hitting late in the third and early fourth at 7-11 in those two periods. Nailing 3-pointers helped juice that total up, but he was hustling around in the fourth quarter, hitting putbacks and enforcing his defensive menace by notching three steals overall. His shot comes and goes, but his willingness to create off the dribble late in the game continues to be a valuable asset if only because teams need to respect his assertiveness. In turn, that can open up lanes and shots for the more passive players on the Bucks’ roster. Both he and Giannis are building up a reputation for closing out games with clutch jumpers, shots that were often clanked in season’s past including by the usual sure-shooting Middleton. When Giannis pulled off the elbow banker today while posted up (quickly becoming my favorite irrational shot of his), that’s how you know he’s more than comfortable taking the reins of a close-out. Both he and Bledsoe did precisely what happened last time against the Wiz, taking control of a narrow game late.
Bonus Bucks Bits
Oh what a salve hitting shots is. Khris Middleton came out rifling today from the start and Milwaukee was given plenty of midrange room by the Wizards in the beginning and they took advantage of it. Two hits by Midds and one by Brogdon forced the Wiz into an early timeout and eased some of the painful memories from yesterday’s Heat game with their worst shooting performance of the year.
Malcolm Brogdon continues to be one of the more underrated crafty finishers beneath the basket. He constantly shields guys with his body using his bulkier frame while extending his lengthy reach for surprisingly quick reverse layups. He had another in the first quarter today, and subsequently tricked the defense into thinking he’d finish before laying off a flip pass to Henson under the bucket. Shades of the byegone Brogroe era.
After one of his lengthier stints on the bench between the first and second quarter yesterday, Giannis played the entirety of the first quarter today getting nine points in the process. It turns out that just delayed his lengthy rest to the start of the second quarter, where he didn’t enter until around the 4:20 mark or so.
This was relevant to start the second and fourth quarters again with Middleton-Brown-Delly-Snell-Thon:
Just watched the game now. I don’t know how Kidd arrived at the idea of going with four non-playmakers + a slumping Middleton for the first 6 minutes of the 4th, then bringing in all three of Bledsoe, Brogdon, and Giannis together, but...— Brett Abramczyk (@BrettAbramczyk) January 15, 2018
Sterling Brown’s off-the-dribble game will certainly be a work in progress, as he nearly embarrassed Bradley Beal with a crossover but wound up falling to his knees as the ball bounced feebly away in the second. Baby steps for the budding rookie who continues to look like a ball hawk on defense.
I feel like we’ve been devoid of decent Henson passes of late after a smattering of them to open the season, but today he found Giannis on a backcut while Henson worked the high post for an on-point pass that ended in a flush. A millisecond later and the ball likely would’ve been picked off.
Milwaukee got off to yet another inauspicious start to the third quarter, going 0-6, but managed to bounce back with some timely shot-making and a trio of threes late in the period from Eric Bledsoe (0-2 before that) and Malcolm Brogdon. Their sweet shooting vaulted Milwaukee ahead late in the third, but a Kelly Oubre Jr. heave managed to knock in and deflate the excitement a bit.
Eric Bledsoe has this nagging habit of leaving his feet far too early near the basket and then turning in the air to pass only for no one to be there. Giannis did the same thing on a fast break in today’s game too. Both guys are musclebound enough that they may as well just try and go for a finish there and draw contact since the chances of someone being in an opportune position there are slim. Brogdon can be guilty of it, but his drives are generally purposeful (and sparing) enough that he’ll either finish or look for someone snaking to the hoop/lurking in the paint. Either way, it’s certainly something Bledsoe could clean up.
Giannis the long-snapper is awesome. I hope he and Packers punter Brett Goode become great friends some day.