In what truly felt like a playoff game, the Milwaukee Bucks were up to the task in conquering the Toronto Raptors 122-119 in overtime. It started more rocky though, as a quarter punctuated by a magnificent Giannis to Jabari alley-oop covered up what was otherwise a pretty pedestrian period, but Milwaukee trailed by just six, 29-23, when the first was finished. The Bucks followed that up with an offensive explosion, going off for 42 points against Toronto to finish the half ahead 65-57. More foul trouble for Khris Middleton cost Milwaukee some firepower in the third, but Eric Bledsoe showed up to keep them ahead 96-88 after the third. The contest narrowed as the fourth quarter continued, but when Khris Middleton biffed on a free throw that could’ve put the Bucks up three, Toronto took advantage on the other end as Jonas Valanciunas ripped past John Henson for a dunk right before the buzzer sounded and sent it into OT tied at 110. Milwaukee battled back from a 5-0 start for Toronto adding eight points of their own, with Giannis eventually hitting what ultimately proved to be the winning stepback jumper and sporting his mean mug all over the court in victory. Savor this:
Three Main Observations
In the absence of Milwaukee’s point guard depth, Bledsoe being out of the game allowed Giannis to flash some impressive facilitation skills. He was bringing the ball up constantly, controlling the pace of the game by attacking in the halfcourt and then parlaying that into opportunities like the tweet below, where he seems to spot up for hook shot but bats the ball at its apex over to JET for a triple. For much of the first half he drew plenty of Toronto’s attention and his teammates paid him off by splashing home jumpers. Those four assists were part of the reason his first half scoring total (9) was so minimal. He took a more direct offensive role in the second half, trying to create for himself, particularly down the stretch and when he nailed a clutch stepback sideline jumper to put Milwaukee up three with only 12 seconds left in OT. This pass is still my favorite play tonight though.
Your favorite player wishes he could make this pass pic.twitter.com/fnzt780xfF— Brew Hoop (@brewhoop) February 24, 2018
Who’s the Second Fiddle?
Khris Middleton shook off foul trouble to start the contest, coming into his own in the second quarter with an offensive outburst that ended with the five-point play he managed right before halftime. He was working his usual prodding in the midrange, but his pull-up three he hit was a welcome sight given his struggles from there. Most importantly, he was drawing fouls on Toronto, going 8-8 from the free throw line in the first half. In the third quarter, it was Eric Bledsoe who stepped up when Middleton was on the bench with Giannis to create and take over as Toronto narrowed Milwaukee’s lead down to four. Between a putback at the rim, nailing his jumpers and finding Jabari Parker in traffic, it buoyed a unit that was lacking Milwaukee’s two biggest weapons.
The last five minutes or so of the second quarter started to get pretty testy. Emotions from last year’s playoff matchup may’ve played into it, but a series of no-calls against the Raptors aggrieved the Bucks. Meanwhile, Toronto was getting their own calls near rim, but as soon as they started getting hit with fouls, the Raptors ran their mouths and both DeRozan and Valanciunas were called for technical fouls. That chippiness continued into the second half, when Jon McGlocklin was continually referencing a suspect “knee to the jaw” Middleton took, but Toronto’s players displeasure with the refereeing only persisted. Most of all, this whole game felt like spillover from last year’s playoff contest and it was a fitting way to kick off the genuine race for a playoff spot This, from Jason Terry, sums up Milwaukee’s feelings quite nicely I think about tonight’s amped up energy.
Jason Terry during his halftime interview on @fswisconsin: “You’ve got to understand, this team sent us home last year. This game is personal; this is a pride thing. At some point, you’re going to get tired of a team whooping your butt every time you face them.”— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) February 24, 2018
Bonus Bucks Bits
John Henson returned to the starting lineup tonight after sitting out the last few games before the All-Star Break, giving Tyler Zeller a chance to spread his wings with this Bucks squad. Tonight, Zeller didn’t even make an appearance as Henson and Thon played well in both their stints.
Joe Prunty had to dip into the backcourt bench quite early tonight with both Tony Snell and Khris Middleton notching two fouls within the first eight minutes of the game.
This is gorgeous, features Jabari’s lift coming back and required DeRozan poorly recovering from the hedge as Jabari barreled to the rim before Poeltl could offer much resistance.
This feels incredible to say again...— Brew Hoop (@brewhoop) February 24, 2018
GIANNIS TO JABARI FOR THE SLAM!!!!! pic.twitter.com/ts8xPYvrfh
Thon managed to grab an offensive rebound and then go up with it right away in traffic for an and-one finish. Offensive boards are rare enough for him, but the fact he was able to put the ball back without bringing it down to his waist was a decent development.
Sean Kilpatrick has his deficiencies, but his two biggest upgrades over prior guards are probably his quick trigger and most importantly, his ability to get to the free throw rack. In just 171 minutes with Milwaukee coming into tonight, he had 15 free throw attempts. That’s not amazing by any means, but for comparison sake, in 458 minutes last year Rashad Vaughn had just five free throw attempts.
A DeRozan foul led to a fabled five-point play as Middleton nailed a 3-point jumper DeMar slapped him on.
THE LEGENDARY 5-POINT PLAY, DON'T TELL JASON KIDD— Justin's Secret Bucks Account (@justinsuperbuck) February 24, 2018
The 42 points Milwaukee scored in the second quarter was their highest total in a quarter this season.
Secretly, this has been my favorite combo beneath (or above in this case) the rim this year, supplanting Brogroe’s pinpoint bounce passes in the paint.
This mainly stemmed from Bledsoe expertly, and haphazardly, splitting two Raptors defenders in pick-and-roll coverage, but the finish by Jabari is rightfully attention-worthy. Jabari’s cuts to the hoop are his most potent weapon and he’s starting to look far more comfortable slipping inside in tandem with his teammates penetration.
Dunk #3 from Jabari tonight and each and every one has been beautiful pic.twitter.com/kvN4QjI09J— Brew Hoop (@brewhoop) February 24, 2018
Jason Terry, whose 3-point resurgence after a frigid start to the year has been key with Delly/Brogdon out, came up big again tonight hitting 3/4 from deep. He almost always knows where to go on the floor too, as one of his final shots came after getting clumped up on the fast break and knowing to drop it off to a trailing player and immediately sprint to the arc.
There was a brief brouhaha between Thon Maker and Sterling Brown as they walked to the bench after the third quarter. As stated here, Henson’s blank face was by far my favorite part of this whole thing.
This Giannis save from out of bounds and subsequent shot by Jason Terry is insane.
GREAT play call by Prunty pic.twitter.com/HWQPW9Xw2P— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) February 24, 2018
There’s something darkly comic about the fact DeMar DeRozan, maligned for his love of 2-pointers, opted for a slam dunk rather than kicking out to a fellow player for a 3-point attempt with just one second left in OT.