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Milwaukee vs. Minnesota: Bucks Eke Out Win Over Timberwolves

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

New year, same Milwaukee Bucks. Maybe not as pretty as usual, but the result is the same as we expect it to be. Tonight, the Minnesota Timberwolves put up quite a fight, but in the end the Bucks prevailed 106-104.

Milwaukee’s start was hugely unimpressive, as the Timberwolves managed to open up a 7-0 lead before Giannis dunked home the Bucks’ first bucket...at the 8:24 mark of the first quarter (Milwaukee had missed their first six shots). Milwaukee was sloppy and out of sync, and Mike Budenholzer opted to take a timeout early in the first. It took a bit of time, but once both teams deployed their reserves things started moving back on course. It still was rough going, as the Bucks carried a 23-19 deficit into the second quarter by virtue of shooting 9/24 (37.5%) from the field.

The choppy seas smoothed out some, though not without significant effort. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a pair of and-one opportunities, and the Bucks re-took the lead on a pretty feed to Brook Lopez that resulted in an and-one for him, and a Giannis three resulted in a 34-31 lead for Milwaukee. A flurry of threes for the Wolves allowed them to retake the advantage, and both teams gritted their way into an unsightly 52-51 score going into halftime, favoring the Bucks.

Halftime must have been refreshing for the Bucks, because Milwaukee came out with a tidy 10-4 run (driven largely by Eric Bledsoe) to assert their dominant position in the third quarter. Giannis went on a mini-run that was capped with a three (his second of the night) that grew the Bucks’ lead to 10 points (67-57) and forced Ryan Saunders into a timeout.

The frisky Wolves continued to nip at the Bucks’ heels, and the final period started with a six-point Bucks lead. The fourth quarter continued the slugfest, but an ugly Giannis and-one opportunity was immediately followed by a pretty wing three from Khris Middleton, and helped boost the Bucks and put them in position to keep the lead all night. Things got tight at the very end of the game, but Giannis hit the go-ahead three and Brook came up with a timely defensive rebound with 1.1 seconds left in the fourth, and Giannis blocked the last-second desperation heave to close the game out.

Three Observations

The Bucks played ugly.

In the first half, Giannis couldn’t get anything going against Gorgui Dieng. Three pointers simply weren’t falling. Khris Middleton’s patented midrange game was going only in fits and starts. The rim wasn’t walled off, just the rim was; the Bucks shot 42.6% from the field while continuing to shoot poorly on free throws (17/26 tonight). We just kept waiting for that characteristic run that would break the backs of the opponents, and it never happened. Call it what you will, but the Bucks didn’t play well in tonight’s win.

The Wolves played uglier.

On some level, they really didn’t have too much of a chance. Missing their star center and max-contract wing is enough, but they were also missing a veteran point guard in Jeff Teague, and nearly their entire available roster was devoid of shot-making talent (37.4% shooting from the field!). Not only that, but the Wolves got bludgeoned inside (54-32 points in the paint, in Milwaukee’s favor), showing just how much playmaking Minnesota didn’t have on hand.

Hey guys, Kane’s back!

For anyone who doesn’t already know, Kane Pitman might have the most unique path to his membership in sports media and Bucks Twitter. I won’t go further into detail here, but you should give him a follow and support his work however you can. Who knows, maybe this time around he can stick around in the States!

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Giannis sported a new yellow and black color way of his trademark Nike shoe, the Zoom Freak 1. They are, in a word, incredible.
  • The pre-game antics continue...
  • Speaking of Robin Lopez, Sideshow Bob managed to hit back-to-back righty hooks (including an and-one on the second!) in the first quarter.
  • Presented without comment:
  • Milwaukee shot 3/14 from deep in the first half. Yeugh.
  • Wolves rookie Jarrett Culver very much looks the part for Minnesota. He had a pretty transition dunk where he stretched up, took the contact from Bledsoe, and still converted on the shot.
  • The Bucks’ game ops team has a dead-ball contest where three (pre-selected) fans have a brief dance contest, branded as “Dance For Your Dinner,” and the winner is selected by audience applause. I’ve always wondered, what’s the ideal placement in that contest? Assuming that all of the contestants have equal dancing prowess, do you want to be first and set the bar for your opponents? Do you want to be last to be the most recent entry in the memory of the judges (aka however many fans are in their seats and not on their phones during a timeout)? Do the dancers get to choose their order, like a draft, or is it assigned? I have so many questions.
  • With Karl-Anthony Towns missing this game, the role of center for Minnesota was played by Gorgui Dieng and (checks notes) Naz Reid. In response, each Lopez twin tasked with “defending” the Wolves’ replacement centers stuck to the zone drop script, with emphasis on “drop”. I swear, those two guys had so much space on whatever long-range shots they chose to take, you could have parked a mid-size sedan on the court and not been in the way of any of the players.
  • Kyle Korver had a big-time block in the third quarter. No, that’s not a typo. No, really!
  • Remember how Jarrett Culver looked the part? He came up with a HUGE dunk on Robin Lopez in the fourth quarter, but went a bit too far and got T’d up for barking at Robin on the way back on defense. Robin did not take kindly to the gesture, of course, and when Robin Lopez is on his way towards you...
  • Speaking of intimidating Lopezes (this time it was Brook)...
  • The Fiserv Forum stat display shoed Naz Reid with 6 fouls for an awfully long time in the fourth quarter...while Reid was still on the court. It puzzled Jim Paschke and Marques Johnson until the crew managed to correct the error, showing 5 fouls for Reid instead.
  • Tell ‘em, Zora.