The Milwaukee Bucks struggles against the Miami Heat continued this season, dropping tonight’s Dwayne Wade celebratory return game [score]. Milwaukee squandered a 9-0 lead in the early going as Miami worked back into the game riding Dwayne Wade’s return for an emotional high, but the Bucks still emerged with a 23-19 lead after one. In the second, Giannis was held scoreless by the Heat but the Bucks were still able to head into halftime up 46-42 with Eric Bledsoe as the high man at 11 points. The third quarter was a downward spiral for Milwaukee, as the Heat won it by 22 points to stake a 72-54 advantage with the Bucks looking listless on both ends of the court. Milwaukee’s offense finally started clicking as the fourth continued with the Bucks pulling within four at under a minute to go. After Bledsoe botched a transition layup against Wade and Wayne Ellington one-upped it with a 3-pointer on the other end, Milwaukee’s fate was sealed.
Three Main Observations
The Giannis Stopper
James Johnson remains one of those guys who continues to give Giannis trouble, even in his leveled up state. He was feasting early against lackadaisical Heat defenders, flitting behind them and working the baseline for simple slams. When Johnson entered, Giannis struggled forcing his agenda at the rim, being deterred at the hoop and unable to work in isolation against Johnson’s rippled chest. Hassan Whiteside did the same as the second half started too, rendering his usual propensity at the rim inert. Even in transition, Johnson followed along with Giannis in transition after a steal and denied his shot like a brick wall, with his off hand no less. Weirdly, Erik Spoelstra opted to removed Johnson from the game for much of the final six minutes or so when Milwaukee got a smidge of offensive flow going. No Bucks were complaining about it.
The frustration Giannis felt could’ve easily been extended to the Bucks entire offense for much of the second and third quarters. What possessions didn’t end in being stonewalled at the rim usually wound up with tough contested jumpers without any separation. Eric Bledsoe started pounding the ball for a stretch, Khris Middleton couldn’t blow by any Heat defenders (as is usually the case), they stopped snagging turnovers for quick buckets and they had plenty of mishaps on their own. A 30-8 third quarter advantage for the Heat best exemplified the horrors of Milwaukee’s offense, as any sort of momentum they had fizzled before the Heat’s dope Miami Vice jerseys. Milwaukee managed to restore some semblance of rhythm in the fourth quarter with a few quick jumpers and the removal of Johnson from the contest as they tried to exploit Miami’s two big lineup of Bam Adebayo and Whiteside. Miami shot just 36.4% from the field to Milwaukee’s 42.7%, yet once again the Bucks inability to rebound (13-2 OReb advantage for Miami) cost them by giving the Heat plenty more opportunities.
Jabari played his worst game tonight since returning from his torn ACL. He fumbled the ball several times in the third quarter out of bounds and was generally struggling even to gain positioning even against Dwayne Wade. James Johnson also roasted him with an off-the-dribble move for a layup, not exactly his forte. He made one good push in transition and found Thon Maker with a nifty feed while barreling to the basket, but overall he looked as stymied by Wade in the halfcourt as he has at any time yet this year. It’s still the baby step phase for Jabari.
Bonus Bucks Bits
I was pretty darn sure Eric Bledsoe was going to pull up for what would’ve been a poor, early shot clock midranger early in the first but he shipped it back to a trailing Middleton for a swished three. He followed up by attacking Whiteside one-on-one and shoving his bulky body into the brutish big for a spectacular finish. All very much in line with his smart decision making of late. Sadly, that same smoothness didn’t last for the entire contest.
In tonight’s Tony Snell spurts of surprising play, he had a drive to the hoop for a near layup that missed. More importantly, he got fed the ball from Jabari in transition and he tried to leap from just past the first circle in the lane to slam home what would’ve been a ludicrous dunk for even Jabari, let alone Snell. Alas, it was an offensive foul.
Sterling Brown had a beautiful pump fake on Dwayne Wade before moseying into the lane for an off-balanced floater. Nice stuff by the rookie against the wily veteran in his Heat return.
Joe Prunty gave Jabari Parker an earful late in the first quarter when Jabari posted up Dwayne Wade, popped it back out to Giannis and floated to the corner. It appeared Prunty wanted him to aggressively get back against Wade’s aged legs in the post.
Thon Maker is still working on feeling out exactly where the hoop is on the court, I guess. Tonight he didn’t have a Heat defender within five feet of him underneath the hoop, but prefaced his dunk with a spin further beneath the basket before pivoting back to slam it home. Vin Baker must really be drilling in those post moves.
Sean Kilpatrick had two nice dimes tonight. One was spotting Thon free beneath the bucket for a near slam, the other was dribbling at the top of the key and rifling a one-handed pass to Jason Terry in the corner for a three.
Henson pass du jour - an overhead soccer style pass from the paint to Bledsoe in the corner. *that chef finger kiss thing*
BLED 3️⃣!#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/zVADp7jisW— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) February 10, 2018
Milwaukee’s third quarter performance fell apart on both ends, as defense was optional while Miami sliced and diced to the interior or dished for 3-pointers that were clanging off in the first half. All of Milwaukee’s starters had a positive plus-minus at halftime, and with 3:28 left in the third, Henson was the only one left at a +2.
Tyler Zeller finally saw some minutes late in the third quarter after Thon Maker was schooled by Bam Adebayo beneath the hoop. Adebayo’s looked stellar in his games against Milwaukee this year, but even Zeller’s clearly imposing presence wasn’t enough to hold off the rookie at the rim. Zeller played nearly the entire final quarter for Milwaukee too. Sadly, he likely won’t be the saving grace against larger big men some people may have hoped.
The eight points Milwaukee scored in the third quarter was the lowest point total they’ve scored in a game yet this season.
Tony Snell has been mired in some kind of frigid slump. He missed a wide open shot to bring the Bucks within six at about the four minute mark of the fourth quarter. He was 8/24 in his last eight games and went just 0-2 from beyond the arc tonight.
It felt fitting that tonight’s game started with Bledsoe laying in an amazing contested finish against Whiteside, but couldn’t complete a transition layup in the open court against Dwayne Wade with under a minute to go and make it a one possession game.
Between the incessant timeouts, repeated replays, frequent free throws off fouls and wonky (weak in my opinion) technical call against Josh Richardson late that extended the game, the final two minutes of this game exemplified exactly the sort of elongated final few minutes the NBA wants to eliminate at all costs.