The Milwaukee Bucks have found magic in MSG before, but they couldn’t pull the rabbit out of the hat again against the New York Knicks, dropping an OT contest 134-136. It wasn’t a pretty start for Milwaukee, as has often been the case this year, but following a Giannis dunk that recaptured the energy after an ill-fated Hezonja stepover, the Bucks took a 35-28 lead into the second. The Bucks couldn’t put the Knicks away in the second either, as New York went 9-17 from deep on the half to stay within 66-61 at halftime. A see-sawing third quarter ultimately ended with the Knicks going on a run to counter Milwaukee’s, as the Bucks led only 97-93 after three. The Knicks once more pushed past a Bucks run, tying the game late as a Giannis jumper missed the rim and sent it into OT, tied at 124. Sadly, the Knicks just couldn’t miss, while the refs weren’t inclined to give the Bucks a kind whistle, and they fell just short, 134-136.
I don’t know what was going on with Khris Middleton tonight, but he sure seemed like the NY nightlife got the best of him. He seemed seemed disinterested in playing engaged defense to start the third, and Budenholzer rightfully took him out. He certainly wasn’t alone in coming out flat after halftime, but seeing him lapse while Hezonja either cut or feigned cutting was pretty dispiriting for a guy who should be a key defensive cog. Doubly so when he barely efforted to grab a loose ball in the fourth and didn’t close out on a three. Bud pulled him again to start the fourth.
To go a step further, Middleton has played only 19 minutes or less four times in the last three seasons. One of those times was cut short due to injury as well. Two of them were blowout wins or losses by more than 20 points. The other two were games decided by double digits. Even the season where he came back from that brutal hamstring injury, he rarely ever played this little. That really says something about what Bud thought about his effort tonight. Let’s hope he gets some energy back for next time. We got the answer from k-Midd himself after the game:
Talked to Khris Middleton, who said he got benched, “plain and simple.” Said it was on him for missing defensive assignments, not competing at the necessary level.— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) December 2, 2018
It was clear from the outset that New York’s parade of young players had an intense fear of Giannis driving to the basket. Shaq’s Superman declaration must’ve made their way into their locker room this week, because they were collapsing on him like bees to a soda can on a hot summer day. That opened up a whole host of easy drive-and-kick opportunities that gave Milwaukee wide-open three after wide-open three. Some of those easy looks dried up as the game went on, but only Milwaukee’s other players were able to squeeze out room and facilitate to awaiting shooters. In transition though, Giannis continued to garner fearful Knicks clawing at his arms in hopes of disrupting his passing rhythm. Unfortunately, the Bucks defense
Eric Bledsoe’s defense this year has looked markedly more consistent than last season’s sporadic bursts of energy. Granted, it was against Emmanuel Mudiay who offers no threat of a pull-up, but his smothering coverage seems entirely suffocating. More impressive to me is the ease with which he seems to be playing. He knows his athleticism is a notch above Mudiay’s, and you could see it on feeble attempts to try and get to the tin when Bledsoe just stands him up at the hoop. Another time, Mudiay pumpfaked and should’ve had Bledsoe dead to rights with a drive, but instead Bledsoe’s low center of gravity let him fall quickly and recover to give Mudiay pause before he could do further damage. His steal in OT to salvage a possession followed by a clutch three really kept Milwaukee from losing all momentum in extra time, even if they still ultimately lost.
Bonus Bucks Bits
You always hear about how Knicks fans are some of the smartest basketball fans out there. Here’s some decent evidence to support that:
Giannis got more applause during pregame intros than any Knicks player. This game is in New York.— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) December 1, 2018
Giannis’ willingness to be embarrassed at the rim on ludicrous block attempts, no matter his stature in the league, continues to be one of his most endearing traits. Mario Hezonja got a transition dunk with Giannis bearing down on him from behind, then proceeded to step over Giannis. I did appreciate how Steve Novak came to Giannis’ defense on the broadcast. Giannis didn’t need much more motivation than that, proceeding in transition with a mammoth dunk that could’ve taken down the backboard. Here’s how he felt afterwards:
We awoke the freak pic.twitter.com/k8Z5kzohQ9— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 1, 2018
After the game, Giannis declared how he’ll treat Hezonja next time he pulls a stunt like that:
Got clarification. Full quote is, "Oh yeah, I'm going to punch him in his nuts next time." https://t.co/3bcT0HlpZn— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) December 2, 2018
Tony Snell did a euro-step in transition and finished at the basket. That is all.
In other weird play happenings, this one really surprised me:
Connnaughton just did The Tony Snell Play with Thon Maker.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) December 1, 2018
I don't know what's going on right now.
During a series of pans around MSG showing the celebrities in attendance, Paschke called out Dustin Hoffman, Howard Stern, and then the camera turned to a woman who I presume might be a model, but Paschke stayed completely silent during it, unsure of who she was. To be honest, I have no idea who she is either, but boy was that silence enjoyable.
After a season where it’s been tough for Sterling Brown to get minutes, it was pleasurable to see him knock down a 3-pointer and get fouled (he hit the FT). Even more so when he used a pumpfake dribble-drive to get around Enes Kanter for a finish at the rim.