The Milwaukee Bucks are not at full strength. Without Brook Lopez, or Bobby Portis, or Donte DiVincenzo, their basketball brand of bludgeoning opponents into submission is simply not feasible, and the San Antonio Spurs had no interest in simply laying down. Tonight, though, by virtue of grinding out trips to the foul line and some ice-cold shooting from San Antonio, the Bucks were able to walk away with a hard-fought W in their effort to simply hold the fort and await the cavalry.
What Did We Learn?
Today’s lesson in roster-building: it’s hard to defend the rim when you don’t have enough bigs.
Bucks are just too small defensively when Thanasis Antetokounmpo is serving as the nominal center.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) October 24, 2021
Spurs guards are getting downhill and not at all deterred when they see Antetokounmpo at the rim.
Usually, the Bucks are fine whenever Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the floor, even if he’s the tallest Buck. When you don’t have Brook, it’s fine; you have Giannis. When you don’t have Bobby, it’s fine; you have Giannis! But when you don’t have both…Giannis can do anything but he can’t do everything, sometimes he has to take a break and leave the court, and Milwaukee struggled protecting the paint as a result.
San Antonio shot 63.3% on two-pointers this evening, and while one evening should not be an indictment of anything, much less a championship-level roster, it does reinforce concerns about the Bucks’ front court depth. Bobby Portis remaining out with a hamstring pull is likely a measure of caution, which is wise because the Bucks will need Portis for the long haul. The same goes double for Brook Lopez and his back issue; Lopez has been something of an iron man for Milwaukee and is likely being held back to ensure that there is as little chance as possible of any development of a chronic or nagging injury that will rear its ugly head later in the year. The price of that caution is that Thanasis Antetokounmpo becomes the de facto backup center, and that’s just…rough.
Don’t mention to Pat Connaughton that the playoffs are over. Joining the starters for a second straight game, Planet Pat logged 37 minutes on the evening and produced 16 points and 7 rebounds, including a pair of crucial three-point shots late in the contest to help seal the win. This script might sound familiar, as Connaughton was regularly a member of the Bucks’ crunch time lineups in the postseason, regularly coming through with a clutch three here or an important offensive board there. Contract consternation aside, Connaughton has become one of the Bucks’ most important players, able to plug into several different roles and perform well on short notice. The team is lucky to have him where they do, especially if he continues to play like he has for the better part of the last twenty-ish games that matter.
Jordan Nwora continues his audition for a spot in the regular rotation. “Nwora The Scora” as he’s often called did relatively little scoring tonight, but his 21 minutes off the bench were another entry in the growing list of evidence that the sophomore out of Louisville might have a chance at real, actual, consistent playing time. He only had 7 points but also took only 7 shots, and added 6 rebounds and 2 blocks, including an all-out effort to snuff out a Spurs transition possession. His defense is approaching “passable,” and it was widely recognized that he was focusing on improving his offensive abilities in training camp, particularly sharing and handling the ball. Nwora still has a ways to go, but for anyone who placed a bet on him, Nwora is showing promising signs.
The Bucks endured an Outlier Game...and survived. This almost never happens…or rather, it feels like it never happens. It’s actually quite common, it’s just that we notice it more when the outcome is a loss rather than when it’s a win. Even still, tonight’s outlier was San Antonio’s Doug McDermott, who scored 25 points for the Spurs with most of them (21, to be precise) coming on his seven makes from downtown. Granted, McDermott is not known as a poor shooter (he’s actually been a very, very good one), so it might be a stretch to call his night an “outlier” when the phrase is usually reserved for non-shooters catching lightning in a bottle. Nevertheless, when you can’t protect the rim and you give up seven made threes to a single guy, you usually have a tough time winning. Yet “winning” is exactly what the Bucks did.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Despite the size imbalance, the Bucks actually won the rebounding battle by six boards (44-38), mostly by collecting missed Spurs shots.
- There were a lot of missed Spurs shots...we mentioned McDermott above, but his teammates were the yang to his yin; Lonnie Walker IV (1 for 8), Derrick White (1 for 5), Bryn Forbes (1 for 4), Keldon Johnson (0 for 4), and Devin Vassell (0 for 4) were a combined twelve percent from behind the arc this evening.
- Despite a reported improvement in his physical status, Rodney Hood was a DNP-CD this evening. Given how he’s looked in a Bucks uniform…we’d rather wait for Hood to be all the way ready for his debut.
- Khris Middleton took a nasty spill on a wet spot late in the game. He was fine and stayed in, but some Bucks fans had unpleasant flashbacks to the last time we heard about Khris slipping on a wet spot on a basketball court.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo really is a different player now, and where it shows the most tonight on the stat sheet...is his fouls, and how he got them. After earning his fourth personal foul early in the third quarter, Giannis finished the game with...four personal fouls.
- Still, nobody’s perfect. Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday make up the lion’s share of the Bucks’ offensive possessions, but tonight they combined for 18 turnovers...out of a total of 20 for the team.
- Lonnie Walker IV, once a darling of Bucks draftniks, hit a silly layup at the end of the third that deserves mention here:
- After an up-and-down preseason, Good George Hill made an appearance with 15 points on six shots (including 3 for 3 on triples).
- Jrue Holiday, returned from a right heel contusion, was apparently held to a minutes restriction on the evening. Much due to the thinness of the roster, Planet Pat…was not.
Other minutes-related post-game exchange:— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) October 24, 2021
Pat Connaughton played 37 minutes tonight and Budenholzer joked that he is going to need an ice bath until their next game on Monday to recover from that type of minutes load this early in the season. https://t.co/v7j6BnSNJ6
- Much to fans’ chagrin, Sandro Mamukelashvili played fewer than 6 minutes on the evening. Fellow two-way player Justin Robinson played more than double that (13 minutes)…and had the second-highest individual plus/minus for Milwaukee at plus-14. It’s clear (or should be, at least) that Mamu has plenty of room for growth; at this point, if he couldn’t see the court when Thanasis was the backup center, he’s just not ready for consistent NBA minutes yet.
- To close it out on a positive note, major congratulations are due to Khris Middleton, who became the tenth-most prolific scorer in franchise history!
Khris Middleton has now passed Hall of Famer Ray Allen for No. 10 on the #Bucks all-time scoring list.— Jim Owczarski (@JimOwczarski) October 24, 2021