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Milwaukee vs. Houston: Bucks Stroll Past Rockets, 108-94

Eric Bledsoe’s intensity sets the tone for Milwaukee

NBA: Houston Rockets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In a matchup that featured James Harden vs. the MVP, the Bucks would cruise to a 108-94 victory, earning a season sweep of the Houston Rockets.

The anticipation for this one was definitely next-level. We all knew the storyline coming in — James Harden vs. the MVP. There wasn’t an empty seat in the arena, and the energy was palpable, making it really mirror a playoff atmosphere.

A cold shooting start would sputter the Bucks to start this one out. It’d take a little time for them to find the net, but thankfully, Houston didn’t inflict too much damage during the first quarter. Moving into the second period, Milwaukee found themselves down by just five, 25-20.

You want intensity? The second quarter provided it. Man, oh man, this had a little bit of everything. I’ll dive into it more later during this piece, but the competitive spirit was intense. Milwaukee would use a revved up Khris Middleton and some power plays from Giannis Antetokounmpo to catapult themselves into the lead come halftime, 58-53.

It’d all be done once the third quarter rolled around. Why? A man named Eric Bledsoe. Nobody could stop him. His energy paced the Bucks to the next level, and eliminated any chances Houston had of stealing a victory. From the third on, there really was never any doubt about this one and Milwaukee strolled to victory, 108-94.

Eric Bledsoe would be the lead man for the Bucks. He etched 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting, including four threes. For Houston, James Harden would stir up a measly 23 points on 9-of-26 shooting, including 1-of-9 from deep.

Three Observations

Welcome to the Bledshow.

It’s very fitting that all the storylines leading up to this one centered around the MVP race between Giannis and Harden — only to be put on hold by Eric Bledsoe. But when you have a third quarter like he did, it can’t be ignored. Going into the third quarter, Milwaukee was just up by five points. When we were heading into the fourth, the Bucks were in strong control and little doubt existed as to whether or not they’d win. It’d all be because of Eric Bledsoe, who just dialed it up to 11. In the first eight minutes of the third, he’d post 16 points and bring a level of intensity that was worth even more. It really proved to be the catalyst in this one, and man oh man, was that a joy to watch. I mentioned in my Rapid Recap that we need a nickname for his headband, so feel free to drop them in here if you haven’t already.

Oh yeah, and how about THAT BLOCK:

The Bucks do such a masterful job of controlling Harden.

This is your MVP?

I can hear Mike Budenholzer and his coaching staff laughing all the way from my apartment in Bay View.

But going back to last night, there were times that it seemed as if the Bucks were styling their defense against Harden so much in taking his left hand away that it resembled a shift on the baseball diamond. Budenholzer said in his press conference that that’s due in large part to reducing the number of threes he gets. It worked last night, as he connected on just 1-of-9 from deep, so he was clearly uncomfortable. He was clear to mention that it wasn’t a plan that branched from trying to expose a weakness, but rather an effort to establish creativity in figuring out how to guard a player that’s so dangerous with the ball in his hands. A big kudos to the Bucks and their defensive efforts last night.

The all-around defense by Milwaukee was contagious.

Defending James Harden off the 3-point line wasn’t the most defense-oriented aspect of the game. I lost count at how many times the Bucks forced a steal in the backcourt. However, it was multiple times, and boy was it a momentum shifter. It’s something that always catches your eye — at least mine at least. I didn’t see a single one clearly, frankly because I never expect it to happen (I typically always look down to my laptop to type after a basket goes in). But it happened last night, and Budenholzer was asked if that was planned for in the gameplan at all. He said no, but he’ll take it. And why not? It clearly proved to be another crucial catalyst in a playoff-style game, and the Bucks fed off the energy that it provided from the crowd.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • With his 13 points, Brook Lopez crossed the double digit line again, making it 13 of his last 14 games with double figures. Splash Mountain continues to produce, man. There’s nothing like seeing him catch-and-shoot from two feet beyond the arc. It’s like seeing a whale breach off the shores of Sydney. What a sight.
  • It was a cold night from Khris Middleton, especially beyond the arc. He’d go just 1-of-8 and never really find a groove, even on some really nice looks. Thankfully, the Bucks bench is pretty deep and Pat Connaughton stepped up. He’d contribute with 14 points, 12 of which came from deep. Big props to the Notre Dame product on his big game.
  • Danuel House Jr. looked as if he was on pace to have a big game, but to no avail. He came out strong in the first half with 12 points, but would only score three the rest of the way. Another tip of the cap to the Bucks for making the proper adjustments on defense.
  • I still can’t get over Bledsoe getting up in Harden’s face like he did. Pump that into my veins. It’s true that a locked in Bledsoe is a match that no opposing player wants, and it really does boost this team to the next level. It really is like watching a natural phenomenon.
  • Last night after the game, I was going through Snapchat and I saw a friend of mine from back home (central WI area) post stories from the game. I have NEVER talked Bucks basketball with this person in my life. It brings so much joy to me knowing that people back home are hopping on board with this team and are actually paying attention and coming down for games. It doesn’t seem that long ago where you could go up to that area, ask them about the Bucks, and they wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about. The hype is spreading across the state. It might not be at Brewers/Packers levels yet, but maybe it’ll get there with a deep playoff run.

For those wondering who Dr. Dave is, he’s a local doctor who works with children diagnosed with cancer. He’s an avid member of the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) and is known for his signature one-arm crowd pump-up tactic. So last night, the Bucks unveiled the Dr. Dave Wave Cam. And my oh my, I already want it back. That’ll be huge to get the crowd going come the playoffs.