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Bucks vs. Clippers: Drifting Away Late

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Milwaukee can’t capitalize on a Teodosic injury and falters down the stretch

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A pivotal road trip with playoff and draft pick implications for the Milwaukee Bucks kicked off with a disappointing loss, 105-98, against the Los Angeles Clippers. Milwaukee survived a torrent of scoring from Milos Teodosic early, who carved the Bucks up but the Clippers only led by six points, 35-29 after one quarter. The second started even worse than the first, but Giannis and company made a late surge and were down 62-56 at half. After three, Milwaukee finally planted a foothold on the lead by taking an 82-78 advantage into the fourth. Milwaukee’s defense disappeared in the fourth quarter though, surrendering a 13-0 Clippers run that gave them enough cushion to allow the Clips victory.

Three Main Observations

Pining for Passing

Teodosic had a sequence tonight where he was one-on-one with Giannis, tried crossing him up and then rifled a one-handed pass inside to a Clipper prowling the paint who one-touched a pass over to Montrezl Harrell for a cool finish at the rim. On the other end, Milwaukee divebombed towards the rim unsuccessfully before trying to dish back out to the perimeter and hope their shooters were open. Milwaukee is missing someone like Teodosic whose entire ethos is to get the ream passing in creative ways. I can’t recall many sequences that featured two crisp, clean, creative passes in a row this year. That sort of connection comes both from a new scheme but also a cultural overhaul. Giannis could play a part in that, but his scoring prowess is too integral to this squad. Here’s hoping whoever comes in next year can inspire that sort of positive passing frenzy.

Third Quarter Sea Change

The third quarter seemed like the turning point tonight. Key word, seemed. Teodosic was unable to return with a foot injury that’s hampered him all season and his absence sapped the Clippers of their offensive creativity. With Lou Williams relatively bottled up, he couldn’t provide the offensive spark LA desperately needed. Giannis, meanwhile, finally came alive through sheer force of aggression. He didn’t settle on the perimeter, instead opting to bully towards the Clippers’ interior at every chance he had, particularly while DeAndre Jordan rested on the bench. One team losing their catalyst while the others finally catalyzed proved a successful formula for a struggling Bucks team. Unfortunately, that success was short-lived.

Jabar-eeek!

Jabari Parker had his lowest scoring output of the season tonight. With just two points, he looked flummoxed at the rim, couldn’t finish around smaller defenders like Montrezl Harrell and his verticality looked a bit questionable. I’m curious whether he’s hitting some sort of athletic wall in his rehab, but the Bucks have been gung-ho about his athletic aptitude to this point. Either way, his herky-jerky play felt disruptive rather than destructive tonight. Shots rattling out can be expected, but he also shared the floor with an entire bench unit and failed to make his mark on the game during that period. He still finished neutral in plus-minus for the game, but tonight’s performance didn’t provide much encouragement for his finish to the season.

Bonus Bucks Bits

Thon Maker missed tonight’s game with an injury, giving Tyler Zeller his first shot at extended play in some time. He answered the call with a solid eight points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Middleton’s taken two trailing threes early in the shot clock, essentially occupying the Mirza Teletovic trailer spot, in the last few games. He took one in the first tonight that clanked away, but I’d like to see more spot-ups like that from him before the defense can get set.

Milos Teodosic was a killer in the first five minutes, nailing two of his own threes and creating two for Wesley Johnson in the same left corner by drawing the eyes of seemingly every Bucks player. There was also a nifty behind-the-back dish.

Giannis made a savvy, what some might perceive as counterintuitive, play partway through the first when Eric Bledsoe was dribbling up in transition. Rather than Giannis blasting his way to the rim in front of Bledsoe on the opposite side of the lane, he stalled his momentum and popped back out to the 3-point line. It stopped Tobias Harris from offering even piddly defensive resistance, kept Clippers defenders off their toes and gave Eric Bledsoe a less cluttered lane to do his thing attacking the rim for a layup. Giannis at the rim is always preferred, but he knows Bledsoe likes to barrel toward the rim like that in transition. Giannis learning how to maximize his teammates abilities remains one of his best traits.

Sindarius Thornwell throwing down a slam in Milwaukee’s face felt just a bit personal after they traded his rights to the Clippers during last year’s draft. I’ll still take Sterling, even with Prunty chaining him to the bench lately before getting a few minutes tonight.

This sky-high block by Giannis on DeAndre Jordan was pretty incredible, eclipsing his complete dismissal of a Harris shot attempt earlier in the game. It turned out this was also Milwaukee’s best only defensive strategy in the first half too, when he had four blocks alone.

If John Henson had the wherewithal, as he did in the third quarter after catching a roll pass from Middleton, to cleanly grab the ball, pivot and find shooters or a cutting Giannis like in the third, it could lead to a pretty potent pick-and-roll attack. Unfortunately, too often he gets blinders on and flips up hooks without surveying the court.

Who would you rather have for the rest of their careers? Jabari Parker or Tobias Harris? No caveats, take your best guess on reasonable contracts and injuries can happen. Who would you rather have for how you think their careers will likely play out.

I’m glad Prunty went with Sterling Brown in the third quarter to try and shut down Lou Williams. Tony Snell seemed to struggle with his off-the-dribble speed in the first half and Brown has the foot speed and physicality to bump him from getting to his spots while driving to the rim. He even re-inserted the rookie in clutch time over Jason Terry to try and get some defensive competence into the lineup.

Tony Snell couldn’t even crack seven minutes tonight and didn’t appear in the second half. I have no idea what’s caused this swoon from Snell, but I’m hoping a new coaching staff can return him to his efficient lane next year. Milwaukee can’t afford another vastly underperforming contract.