On a sleepy Sunday afternoon that featured slightly more yawns from fans than yams on the rim, the Milwaukee Bucks handily prevailed over their I-94 rival Chicago Bulls.
In a game where all thirteen active Bucks saw the court, nearly everybody on the team contributed positively (oddly enough, only JET recorded a non-positive +/- with -1). This was another classic wire-to-wire win over an overmatched opponent, which is something most Bucks fans are simply not used to yet.
Giannis Antetokounmpo once again led the way with 27 points (11/19 shooting), 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Khris Middleton pitched in 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Eric Bledsoe added only 8 points, but also recorded 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals. Off the bench, Sterling Brown and Jason Terry both poured in 12 points, with Brown also putting up 6 boards and 2 steals on the afternoon.
Both teams sleepwalked through much of the opening period, with the score reaching 7-4 Bucks at the 6:48 mark following the weakest John Henson and-one that I’ve ever seen. A Lauri Markkanen 3 quickly tied things back up, but a Middleton-Henson alley-oop hoop brought a smidgeon of life to the court for Milwaukee. Giannis and Nikola Mirotic traded baskets late in the quarter, and the first ended on a Sterling Brown three at 26-20, Milwaukee.
Jason Terry was able to deploy his wings (first JET celebration of the year!) after back-to-back threes early on in the second quarter, the latter of which pushing the lead to 34-22 for the Bucks. This seemed to finally rouse the slumbering Milwaukee team, who eventually moved the lead all the way up to 51-36 after another Sterling Brown corner three.
Bulls have 10 turnovers and 9 of them are on Bucks steals. Milwaukee defense playing in sync and switching well. On offense, the Bucks are 8/13 from 3. That combination has the Bucks up 51-36 with 2:52 left in the 2nd quarter.— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) January 28, 2018
A Middleton three and Giannis dunk extended the Bucks’ lead to 20 points, and the first half ended with a Giannis midrange, giving Milwaukee the advantage 61-42. The second half didn’t start with any fireworks, until Giannis made a nifty spinning dunk against Robin Lopez.
A flurry of threes from Chicago brought the lead at the end of the third period down to just fourteen (86-72). But Milwaukee maintained an answer for everything the Bulls threw at them down the stretch, and a full-line change for both squads within the two-minute mark led to the 110-96 conclusion.
The Bucks were on fire from deep today. Milwaukee ended the contest at 13/28 (46.4%), but was 10/16 (62.5%) for the first half. The Bucks might not catch up to the league’s average for attempts under Joe Prunty (at least not this season), but it will be nice to see if their overall accuracy (currently 34.8%, 28th in the NBA) can take a turn for the respectable.
Milwaukee found what it needed this season...in Sterling Brown.
Sterling is exactly what MIL has needed the entire season: a versatile wing who makes open 3s (can play off Giannis), plays hard and is a good team defender. Kind of insane it took them cycling through GPII, Liggins, Vaughn, Kilpatrick etc to realize that (but at least they did).— Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker) January 28, 2018
A core issue stemming from the Bucks’ lack of guard depth at the beginning of the year was how perimeter play fell off a cliff when the starters sat down. With Sterling Brown’s recent improvement, the Bucks now have a wing who can contribute on both ends without overextending elsewhere (here’s looking at you Matthew Dellavedova, and your significantly reduced usage upon Malcolm Brogdon’s return.)
The Bucks, at least for the last week, have won the games they should have won. Winning three straight against Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Chicago (combined record: 53-97) might not be cause for a major celebration, but this victory marks the first time the Bucks have had a winning streak of three games or more since December 9th against Utah. Verily, this is the first streak of 3+ games of any kind that the Bucks have had since then, personifying the maddening back-and-forth “progress” they had become notorious for.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The ball changed possession four times within the 5:00 mark of the first period, as it seemed that neither team could simply be bothered to care so early in the afternoon.
- Robin Lopez, mascot hunter extraordinaire, had a touching first quarter tribute played in the arena in honor of Benny the Bull’s birthday. Lopez reportedly rented out the nearest Chuck-E-Cheez for him and the mascot, with Bobby Portis earning an invitation “if he wanted to come.” Yup, it was that kind of game.
- Speaking of Portis, the fiery forward earned a technical foul for...reasons...in the first quarter after drawing a foul on Giannis near the end of the period. It was weird then, and it’s weird now.
- Denzel Valentine’s first five makes were all on floaters in the middle of the lane. I know some players are shooting specialists, but this was ridiculous.
- Benny the Bull, ladies and gents:
This is the weirdest sports league on Earth pic.twitter.com/c6MdaXnmR4— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) January 28, 2018
- Giannis’ midrange game is burgeoning. It might not be Khris “Tough Shot Express” Middleton-level prevalent yet (which is good), but the second half featured a number of possessions where Giannis settled for a long jumper...but made it. This feature of his game is a welcome addition, even if opponents still don’t know how to keep him from driving.
- The Bucks are now nine games out from the NBA All Star break, and will face the following opponents: vs. PHI, @ MIN, vs. NYK, @ BRK, @ NYK, @ MIA, @ ORL, vs. ATL, and vs. DEN. Despite the four-game road trip nestled within, it is completely within the Bucks’ power to win six out of those next nine, which would push their record all the way up to 32-25, which is roughly a 46-win pace. Not what expectations were, but still an improvement on where things stood a short time ago.