Despite a frigid 29.7% performance from beyond the arc, the Milwaukee Bucks nearly bested a slightly shorthanded Brooklyn Nets team, ultimately falling 123-125.
The initial period went back-and-forth, but a late scoring run by Milwaukee helped them recapture a 34-28 advantage when the first quarter concluded. The second period was similarly neck-and-neck, but a 4-19 performance from beyond the arc meant the Bucks trailed 57-56 at half. Brooklyn looked dangerously close to pulling away in the third quarter as their offense hummed, but Jrue Holiday manufactured enough points for the Bucks to only be down 89-94 when the third ended. In the waning minutes both teams traded buckets, with Kevin Durant and Khris Middleton exchanging what seemed like knockout shots. In the end, a Middleton contested triple from the corner rimmed out as the Bucks fell 125-123.
What Did We Learn?
The Giannis-Khris pick-and-roll is the Bucks best bread and butter during a close game, at least against this Nets defense. As the final minutes ticked away in this one, Bud repeatedly had Giannis go up and screen on Kevin Durant, Khris’s man, freeing up Middleton for wide open midrange jumpers he consistently converted on. They took full advantage of the deep drops that DeAndre Jordan employed all game to try and stave off Giannis in the paint.
In what could’ve been a preview of a Playoff matchup down the road, it was paramount the Bucks figure out what sort of plays would behoove them to run in the clutch of close contests. We’ll see how they may vary this type of attack in future games, but it was clear that for this night, they had a plan and executed it by keeping the ball in Middleton’s hands down the stretch.
The Nets played WAY off Giannis. Plenty of teams sag off Giannis, but DeAndre Jordan took it to a whole other level in this one, dropping practically to the restricted circle beneath the basket at times. Giannis had more than enough runway to shoot threes, and even rarely found himself encountering a defender when he dribbled to the free throw line. That meant he could shoot whenever he wanted, but it also restricted some of his capability as a distributor and driver. You saw a good number of off-ball Giannis screens atop the key as a result. Giannis finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Jrue Holiday brought his “A” Game. Not only did Holiday get the main defensive assignment on James Harden, he also routinely picked up Kevin Durant. Despite that, he showed calm aplenty with drives to the rim that drew fouls, pulling up for triples and difficult midrangers and manufacturing offense during the third quarter when the Bucks needed every basket they could muster. He scored 11 in that period to help keep the team in it. He ended with 22 points and six assists.
Bud wasn’t afraid to play his starters. Giannis logged 40 minutes, Middleton 36, Lopez 34, Holiday 37 and DiVincenzo 31. Antetokounmpo in particular logged more minutes in this one than he did in any game last season. He also never went to the dreaded all-bench lineups, oftentimes leaving at least two of his big three in the game as well. There was a key stretch in the fourth where both Middleton and Holiday sat for what seemed like just a bit too long while Connaughton-Forbes-DiVincenzo couldn’t handle the Nets firepower with Durant and Harden out there. At this point, we’re still just looking for markers of growth from Bud. Here’s another minute one.
Giannis had 34/12/7 tonight.— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 19, 2021
But the bigger stat is that he played 40 minutes.
The last time he played 40+ minutes was Game 6 of the 2019 ECF. pic.twitter.com/2kbF4P9rar
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Bud opened the game with Holiday expectantly guarding James Harden, while Middleton drew the Durant assignment. He left Giannis on Jeff Green to let the Greek Freak roam and help. Donte drew Harden for a possession while Holiday left the court in the first to mixed results. One possession he got mixed up badly on a dribble move, the next he picked his pocket.
- With the Nets depleted depth, Bud thankfully kept at least two of his starters in the game for almost the entirety of the first quarter. That allowed Khris and Jrue to beat up on a few lineups without Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan in the middle, while adding contributions from Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis.
- Connaughton guarded James Harden for the first 45 seconds of the second quarter before Jrue Holiday was sent to the scorer’s table to check back in.
- Brooklyn was content to put smaller players on Brook Lopez (particularly when he shared the floor with Giannis) or the young Reggie Perry, who is on a two-way and the Nets backup big. Several times Brook took his defender off the dribble for success or lumbered his way in a pick-and-roll. It was a necessary tactic against his former team when his 3-point shot failed him during the first half.
- We didn’t see nearly as much switching in this one, with Bud preferring to let his guards play Harden straight-up most of the time. They did start to switch on the pick-and-roll with him a few times in for the final few minutes though.
- Kudos to Portis for this stop in transition on a two-man fastbreak. Let’s also remember it was Bruce Brown and Reggie Perry running the fastbreak.
Big energy off the bench.#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/S0inxQrJzn— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 19, 2021
- Two huge missed opportunities in the third came when the Bucks got back-to-back steals that led to wide open Connaughton triples. Down nine, the Bucks needed one of those to fall. Instead, they both caromed off.
- Bud tried a coach’s challenge in the fourth after Donte fouled Harden on a drive. Milwaukee won the challenge and the Bucks got the tip at center court.
- If that last play looked familiar to Bucks fans, it should...
Bucks have run a similar action late in games many times before. You may recognize it from Bucks-Jazz at the start of last season: https://t.co/DMx8nPb1qw— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 19, 2021
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