Monday night’s win over the Utah Jazz may not have seemed like much, but it was very much a big deal for the Milwaukee Bucks, who find themselves in the midst of quite the hot streak. Not only have they won eight in a row, but they’ve also nabbed 12 of their last 13, improving to a conference leading 14-3, and (perhaps most importantly) they took their revenge on Utah for that one loss across the previous 13 games.
This game opened with a new tradition. Donte DiVincenzo blowing a layup. Nevertheless, the Bucks seemed interested tonight in bludgeoning Utah in the paint as often as possible; between Giannis’ drives, Bledsoe’s drives, and Robin Lopez post-ups (which work far more often than they look like they should), Milwaukee worked to manufacture points inside early and often. Giannis Antetokounmpo closed the first quarter with a missed three (0/3 in the period, but each of them was as open as they get), as the Bucks closed the first quarter down 25-23. To start off the second, Mike Budenholzer went small but ended up calling on Brook Lopez to help reverse the trend.
Eric Bledsoe was called for a contentious offensive foul (his third in the first half), which then led to a relatively-rare technical foul on Coach Bud. While it didn’t exactly light a fire under the Bucks players (or affect the foul calls being made by the referees), Milwaukee did manage to whittle the Jazz lead down to within single digits, 57-48. This was mostly due to Giannis being Giannis, scoring 17 in the first half despite missing all five of the team’s free throws.
Milwaukee found a few sparks in the third quarter, but Utah’s shooting continued to stymie the efforts made to bring the lead back to even, much less gain the advantage themselves. That is, until Wes Matthews hit a couple of threes, Giannis hit a fadeaway jumper, and then came down and drained a three of his own to make it 74-74. The lead see-sawed for a bit, but Milwaukee was able to clamp down on defense and take a 90-83 lead into the fourth.
The game largely continued in the same fashion until the end; Utah would pull things close through long-range shooting while the Bucks leaned on Giannis to push them ahead again. Wes Matthews (19 points on 5/8 threes) did his part, but this game was all Giannis, with 50 points, 14 boards, 6 assists, and 2 steals.
Small Ball, Big Problems?
The Bucks went small to open up the second quarter and ended up with a double-digit deficit. Surrounding Giannis with shooters makes a ton of sense, but when those shooters take the first available shot rather than moving the ball (or themselves) around to find a higher-quality shot, cold streaks fuel opponents’ transition opportunities.
The Bucks have found themselves in a bit of an early season pickle; while Brook Lopez is on the floor, everything seems to work, but twin brother Robin hasn’t experienced the same success...and he’s seen his playing time reduce as a result. Ersan-at-center groups haven’t been as fruitful either, forcing Bud to get tricky with coming up with Lopez-less lineups that will assuredly come in handy in April...and beyond.
Ice Cold First Half
Milwaukee couldn’t buy, lease, rent, beg for, steal, or otherwise acquire a three point bucket in the first two quarters. Shooting 3/17 (17.6%), they were “led” by Wes Matthews (1-2), Brook (1-3), and Sterling (1-4). Moreover, the team missed five free throws (9/14, 64.3%), making it even more notable that the Bucks were down only nine points at halftime.
Donte “Doing Stuff” DiVincenzo
The Bucks’ second-year combo guard hasn’t quite broken out in the mainstream yet, but his consistently high activity level often puts him in the right places at the right times. For example, late in the fourth quarter he followed up a rare Giannis miss at the rim with an offensive rebound and putback in traffic, and a few possessions later he swiped a steal on the Jazz’s weak side for a transition layup (which he blew, but Pat Connaughton cleaned up).
Bonus Bucks Bits
- As a fan of the NBA, I love it when teams are unnecessarily petty towards one another. Mostly because it’s all in good fun, but also because being petty is one of the great freedoms in life. Tonight, the Bucks game operations crew had some fun at the Jazz’s expense during pre-game introductions, when the Utah starting lineup was announced with this as the background.
- In other, less-petty news, the Utah Jazz wore their purple throwback uniforms tonight. They were gorgeous.
- Eric Bledsoe subbed out early (over 8 minutes left in the first), Sterling Brown took the court, and Bledsoe came back near the 4 minute mark. The Bucks were missing George Hill and needed creative solutions to make up for his absence, and this rejiggering of the rotation might have worked better...if Bledsoe had ended up with a better game.
- Robin Lopez moves towards the basket on offensive rebound attempts. This sounds like a dumb, obvious sentence, but the timing of his movement seems off, especially for a guy who’s as strong of an offensive rebounder as RoLo. It almost feels like Robin is airborne too early when he crashes the glass, and he both misses out on putback opportunities and getting back on defense as a result.
- Pat Connaughton had another planet (Pat) shaking block on a three point attempt tonight. Of course, he left his feet to do so, as his brand demands. Later on in the contest, Pat leapt at another three pointer, and since it turned out to be a pump fake and he ended up out of the play, so of course it went in.
- Ersan Ilyasova drew a charge with 5.7 seconds left in the first quarter, the crowd enjoyed it immensely. He didn’t do too much else in this game, but at least he’s got some of his mojo back, maybe?
- Mike Budenholzer used his coach’s challenge in the second quarter on a Bledsoe offensive foul that, in all honesty, was such an unexpected call that Eric could do nothing but smile. The call was upheld, much to the chagrin of the Fiserv Forum crowd. (For the record, I thought the call was preposterous in real-time, but seeing the same angle that official Zach Zarba saw on the replay...I get it.)
- Tension around Giannis’ free throw shooting in the crowd is palpable. In the second quarter, Antetokounmpo missed four consecutive attempts from the line, and fans were stressed when he went to the foul line again. Of course, when he made the first one, the building erupted into applause. The second make nearly drew a standing ovation. The next free throw, on an and-one? It got Dr. Dave waving.
- There was a scary moment early in the third quarter, when Giannis got hammered on a dunk attempt and wrenched his right elbow while bracing himself on the fall. Maybe “scary” doesn’t go far enough...how about terrifying? Horror-inducing? Universe-ending? Everyone in the building held their breath for a moment...until he was able to shake it off and nail his two free throw attempts cleanly.
- Apparently, that near-injury fixed Giannis’ shooting mechanics? Before dodging a Bogut-esque disaster, Antetokounmpo was 0-4 on threes and 4-9 on free throws. Afterwards? 2-3 on threes and 4-4 on free throws in the third quarter.
- Joe Ingles and Sterling Brown earned double-technicals at the end of the third quarter; I would give literally every dollar in my wallet to be able to have a transcript of what was exchanged between those two guys.
- In case there was any doubt, Wes Matthews’ bow-and-arrow three-point celebration remains the best.
- Giannis had 50 points and 0 turnovers. 50 points and 0 turnovers!