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Milwaukee vs. Los Angeles: Bucks Escape From L.A.

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I know, I know, the Los Angeles one was a remake, but let me have this one.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It can’t ever be easy, can it? Last night, the Milwaukee Bucks went into the Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Lakers, and just barely made it out of L.A. with a 124-122 overtime victory.

The Bucks started fast last night against Golden State, and sought to repeat in this one. Eric Bledsoe and Kyle Kuzma traded three pointers to start the contest. Giannis put back his own miss, and Bledsoe nabbed a steal and found Tony Snell in transition, and head coach Luke Walton opted to take an early timeout with less than two minutes gone by, Milwaukee leading 7-3. The Bucks cooled off a bit, but tied the game at 10-10 after Giannis Antetokounmpo put Julius Randle on skates, forcing Brook Lopez to foul him for an and-one.

Randle got his revenge on the next possession by canning a deep three pointer with fractions of a second on the shot clock, and then cooly banked home a midrange jumper. Tony Snell found himself open in the corner and hit the three, but Randle drove inside for a powerful dunk over Tyler Zeller, forcing Joe Prunty to call timeout with his team down 21-17.

Thankfully, a quick 10-2 Bucks run forced Luke Walton to respond with a timeout of his own. Khris Middleton closed out his first quarter shift with back-to-back and-ones, punctuated by a nifty floater with less than 5 seconds remaining. Both teams were content to treat defense as an optional field, with the first quarter closing at 39-34, in Milwaukee’s favor. The Bucks shot a more-than respectable 16/25 (62.5%) in the period, but Los Angeles was a scorching 15/19 (78.9%) from the field.

Things cooled off some in the second quarter, but L.A. kept hanging around, bringing it to 52-46 at the 6:00 mark on the back of a strong Lopez dunk fed by former Bucks great Tyler Ennis. Bledsoe and Tony Snell each hit a three pointer, and Giannis earned a trip to the free throw line with the Bucks already up 62-52. KCP ended up getting ejected in the meantime (more on that below), and Middleton and Giannis hit four straight free throws to balloon the lead to 66-52 without any time coming off the clock. The first half ended with a sizable Bucks lead (68-57), and each of the main Milwaukee trio had produced well (Giannis with 16 points and 10 rebounds, Middleton with 17 points and 3 steals, and Bledsoe with 11 points and 4 assists).

The fireworks continued for Milwaukee in the third quarter, leading off with another Bledsoe three and another Middleton floater, forcing coach Walton to take another very quick timeout. Los Angeles deliberately slowed down their offense to knock the Bucks off kilter, but Milwaukee was able to maintain a comfortable cushion as both Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton stayed hot from outside the arc. Julius Randle woke up the Staples Center crowd with a thunderous dunk, but his team was already on the wrong side of a 95-74 score when L.A. took yet another timeout. The Lakers went on a 9-0 run to close the third quarter, but Milwaukee carried a 95-83 lead into the last twelve minutes.

The Bucks opened the fourth with Giannis at center, and the five-out offense Milwaukee ran amounted to four Bucks watching the fifth work with the ball while Ivica Zubac (IVICA ZUBAC?!) continually found easy looks inside, and the Bucks lead was cut to 97-92 in mere moments. Kyle Kuzma kept cooking, bringing the game as close as 101-98 before Giannis drew a shooting foul on him...which was immediately answered by a Zubac and-one. Bledsoe converted an acrobatic layup, but Zubac (who else?!) then tied the game at 104 all with 6:25 remaining.

Giannis had a spin move stripped by Randle, but also came up with two high-pressure tip-ins to help buoy the Bucks. Bledsoe took it upon himself to find cracks in the defense, and managed to make a layup to give Milwaukee some breathing room...until Giannis fouled Brandon Ingram on a made three, accumulating his fifth personal foul with 2:30 remaining.

Giannis found an easy dunk on offense, but gave Randle an open lane on the other end, and the game was tied at 112 with only 1:09 left before both teams got a free breather by virtue of a replay break (thanks, Secaucus!). Possession went to L.A, but Randle gave it right back by stepping on the baseline, and then Middleton tossed a pass out of bounds immediately afterwards. Milwaukee got the ball back, and Bledsoe badly missed an isolation three, ditto for Middleton, and the game headed to overtime.

The teams traded empty possessions in the bonus period before a Middleton block put the ball in Bledsoe’s hands, and he darted ahead of the pack for a lefty layup. Then Middleton came up with a steal and fed Bledsoe for another layup, this time with the right hand to put the Bucks up 116-112. After a timeout, Bledsoe hit a three (his seventh of the night) and yet another layup, giving Milwaukee a nine point overtime lead.

Josh Hart converted a layup after a pair of Kuzma free throws to cut the lead to five, and a transition finger roll from Kuzma narrowed it to 121-118 with 1:09 left in overtime. Tony Snell got shaken up on a missed short-range shot, and Khris Middleton ended up fouling out (and putting the Lakers in the bonus) with 49.8 seconds remaining and a measly one-point lead. After regaining possession, Giannis took an inexplicable long-2, but Milwaukee dodged a bullet on defense when Randle missed a point-blank shot.

An intentional foul sent Giannis to the line, where he split the pair with less than fifteen seconds left and a running clock. Kuzma put up a desperate three pointer that nearly scraped the rafters and barely scraped the backboard, thanks to Giannis’ insane length. Jabari inbounded the ball to Bledsoe with 2.0 second left, and the clutch shots went down as the Bucks escaped with the overtime win.

Three Observations Confirmations

Confirmed: the Bucks will play on their opponents terms. Whether it’s the sloppy, get-out-and-run stylings of the Warriors, or the slow and methodical half-court game of the Lakers, Milwaukee consistently allows the other teams to dictate the terms of engagement. I get it, it’s been a long season, there’s a (probably) lame duck coach, and there’s not much chance of the team’s postseason placement changing. But at the same time, it’s incredibly frustrating to see a team led by a top-5 NBA player refuse to play their own game and relinquish a 20+ point lead. Despite that...

Confirmed: the Bucks have considerable talent on the roster. Giannis’ transcendence can never be truly appreciated, but when enough of his teammates are clicking, the Bucks are able to out-gun opponents pretty easily. Consistency is the major question here, as it always has been for Milwaukee, but when the Bucks’ first half is fueled by 44 combined points from Giannis, Bledsoe, and Middleton (and further supported by 20 combined points from Shabazz, Jabari, and Snell), it’s easy to understand why so many fans were optimistic about the Bucks meeting their own goals for this season. Even despite the blown lead, the heroics of both Bledsoe and Middleton (regulation-ending hero ball attempts aside) are the sorts of thing a team needs to depend on more often, even with a superstar.

(un)Confirmed: Jabari Parker is back? Coulda fooled me. Something is up with Jabari, and I have no idea what it is. He shows flashes (see below) of his dynamic self often enough to keep fans interested, but it feels like there’s far more aimlessness in his game than I expected, and not just on defense. The most telling sequence actually came when Parker was not on the court; his conspicuous absence during the Bucks’ attempt to defend, then reclaim, their lead in the fourth made me think about what it means. For now, we’ll just enjoy this highlight (and ask the hard questions when his restricted free agency is at hand):

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • John Henson was a late subtraction from the Bucks’ active lineup, meaning that it was left to Tyler Zeller and Marshall Plumlee to limit the scoring of Brook Lopez. It...didn’t go well, but it could have gone worse!
  • Jabari Parker got caught between two Lakers on a transition possession, and rather than choosing to defend one or the other, he just...didn’t choose. The possession ended in a made Laker basket. Parker’s defense didn’t improve, either.
  • Bucks’ folk hero Brandon Jennings seemed to enjoy his time playing on the Lakers court; the Compton, CA native could be seen taking in the atmosphere during breaks in play...when he wasn’t jawing with L.A. guard Alex Caruso.
  • Marques Johnson had (apparently) caught some heat on Twitter after sharing an article that used “elite” to describe Khris Middleton. A noted Middleton fan, Marques thoroughly enjoyed describing Middleton’s 15-point first quarter.
  • Sterling Brown and Shabazz Muhammad, after receiving a DNP-CD last night, both saw playing time in the second quarter in L.A. Credit to coach Prunty for holding back the pair of wings yesterday in order to deploy them today.
  • In a different sport, Julius Randle would absolutely be a running back. That guy doesn’t just seek out contact, he takes out a full-page ad in the paper for it. He’s as strong as certain centers...aren’t.
  • On the NBA League Pass broadcast, neither Marques Johnson or Gus Johnson had a clue what led to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s ejection. Upon review, KCP was heated about some contact around his neck while going for a rebound, and his departure from the game was almost as immediate as Kevin Durant’s yesterday, which also occurred in the second quarter.
  • Middleton got knocked to the ground early in the third quarter, and who else but Tony Snell sprinted to his aid.
  • Bucks fans are probably going to end up talking about him anyway, so here’s ESPN’s Rachel Nichols of The Jump talking about Howard Beck’s recent article on Jason Kidd.
  • In the middle of the third quarter, Giannis finally found a matchup against Brandon Ingram in the post, and it was mind-boggling to see just how easily Ingram got backed down (before bailing himself out with a foul).
  • The Lakers have a sponsored half-court shot contest with a jackpot of $75,000. That amount of money would immediately make me reconsider my belief in going for the easy money from the free throw line, I’ll tell you what.
  • It is downright stupid how well Jason Terry moves on defense as a 40-year old guard. I don’t understand how he exhibits better lateral quickness than players ten, fifteen, even twenty years his junior.
  • West Coast road trips are rough to play, I’m sure, but they’re rough to cover. For example, I had to come up with a title for this post, and I have never seen Escape From L.A, or Escape From New York. I don’t know how I even knew it was a reference! I’m so tired...