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Milwaukee vs. Dallas: No Bledsoe? No Problem for Bucks in Big D

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Fourth quarter run by Dallas not enough to overcome Bucks starters

NBA: Preseason-Milwaukee Bucks at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It ended up being a tighter affair than it had any right to be, but the Bucks maintained their perfect record in the preseason after handling the Dallas Mavericks in a 118-111 win. Giannis Antetokounmpo was an absolute force of nature and it took a very late Mavs run to undo the damage he wrought in limited minutes.

The entire first half was a see-saw brought to life with run answered by run, defensive intensity matched by subsequent defensive intensity, and traveling violation followed by traveling violation. Milwaukee got a gut punch in during a 38-27 third quarter before their all-bench units of the fourth quarter had to sweat a 16 point Dallas run and hold onto the W by the skin of their teeth.

Three Main Observations

Giannis in mid-season form

27 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and a 11-17 shooting mark (2-3 from three, 3-3 from the FT line). In 17 minutes. That was Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first half statline (he’d go on to finish with 34 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists in 23 minutes of play) in a game he treated like Game 7 of the Finals. Whether it was frenetic defensive effort, setting up teammates time after time down the court, or straight-up decimating whatever defender(s) Dallas threw his way there was no stopping Antetokounmpo. A post-MVP slump doesn’t appear to be in the cards for him.

Replacing Eric Bledsoe by committee

With Eric Bledsoe going down with a rib injury and set to miss the rest of preseason and start of the regular season, the Bucks guard depth will be tested right off the bat. Decent to promising performances by George Hill, Frank Mason, and Donte DiVincenzo as primary offensive initiators from time to time should ease some of the worry about how the Bucks will paper over Bledsoe’s absence, and shouldering more of the burden by Giannis and Khris Middleton should help even further.

Defense Defense Defense

No period of play better exemplified just how suffocating this team can be than the first four minutes of the second quarter. Every Buck on the floor contributed in individual instances and within team schematics smothering Dallas’s starting unit’s ball movement and forcing turnover after turnover via drawn charges and contested passing lanes. That intensity is tough to maintain over the life of an entire game, but the roster is still capable of putting the clamps on when it needs to.

Bonus Bucks Bits

- Giannis certainly isn’t going to shy away from the three-ball if opponents give it to him. Through two preseason games he has a 3/7 mark from outside which, while very early, would bode well for that shot cementing itself in his arsenal; most importantly he’s been taking them with a fluidity he only really rounded into from time to time a year ago.

- Speaking of Giannis, his mean mug embargo officially lasted 1.5 quarters of basketball

- Ersan Ilyasova continues to prove himself basketball immortal. A demur first quarter was followed by a very hot rest of the game that saw him take and make five threes in a solid 18 point outing. It wouldn’t have been shocking to see him finally start to slow down a little bit, but it looks like another amazingly consistent year awaits Ersan. He also notched his first drawn charge of the year taking a Boban Marjanovic pivot right in the chest; the first of dozens, surely.

- Budenholzer opened the second half with a DiVincenzo, Connaughton, Middleton, G. Antetokounmpo, and R. Lopez lineup and it... wasn’t too bad? The highlight of that group’s minutes was the aforementioned defensive prowess and Donte’s flashes driving past defenders for lay-ins alongside the number of open looks from three he and others got off of numerous drive-and-kicks by a number of Bucks.

- Speaking of Khris Middleton, he’s had better games than what he put together last night. His five turnovers were products of either poor handles or attempts to make tight passing lanes happen, but it IS preseason. This was a pretty nice sequence, though:

- George Hill is a good lead guard, but the loss of on-ball bite that Eric Bledsoe can bring to bear certainly changes the starting unit’s attacking dynamic. It’ll be interesting to see who Mike Budenholzer puts in to start Sunday’s game against the Wizards at PG. Hill might be best utilized as the main guy alongside substitutes while a player like Donte DiVincenzo does their best to replicate Bledsoe’s physical dynamism.

- Kyle Korver followed up a nice shooting night against the Jazz with a couple more quick-trigger jumpers. Even if he’s only used sparingly the speed of his shot can still routinely decapitate defenses that lose track of him in the chaos of game-action.

- Frame this one because you won’t see it often: Dragan Bender rolling into the heart of the defense and finding a cutting Thanasis Antetokounmpo for the slam

- Just how much burn Frank Mason will get during the regular season is unclear, but he looked competent running the all-bench lineups of the fourth quarter. He won’t blow anyone away with his passing finds, but he didn’t make any glaring mistakes with limited talent around him. With Eric Bledsoe out for the time being Mason may get more chances than anyone expected to carve out a depth role for himself.

- Was last night the Dragan Bender game? 17 points (6-10 from the floor, 3-5 from three), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks fails to highlight a few timely baskets made or created by Bender while the Bucks were salting the fourth quarter away. One second he’ll completely blow an uncontested rebound, the next he’s draining the game-sealing three. He’s going to look amazing in Oshkosh by mid-February.

- Poor Luke Maye. The guy gets thrown into his first action in order to defend... Boban Marjanovic in the paint. That went about as well as you’d expect an eight inch/50 pound mismatch to go and Maye was promptly pulled after three minutes.

- Brook Lopez, Wes Matthews, Jaylen Adams, and DJ Wilson were all given DNPs tonight alongside Eric Bledsoe.