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Milwaukee vs. Indiana: Buck(y) Number Seven

Though they aren’t Buck naked, the Bucks keep streaking

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Not content after feasting on lesser teams recently or after their Thanksgiving dinner, the Bucks ordered the Pacers as their main course tonight and extended their win streak to 7 at Bankers Life Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Giannis Antetokounmpo was Milwaukee’s stuffing with 26 points on 10/15 shooting plus 13 boards and five teammates had double digits for the gravy on top. Caris LeVert loaded up too early on appetizers and led the Pacers with 23 points, 18 of which came in the first half.

A 12-2 run staked the Bucks to a brief 10-point lead by the midway point of the quarter. Indiana would answer with a 16-6 run of their own to close the quarter and tie the score at 26. Milwaukee scored 10 straight to begin the second and regain a double-digit lead. Despite cold shooting and six turnovers, their defense was tight enough to keep the Pacers from getting closer than 4, and they led 52-47 at the half.

Indy came out swinging to start the second half and cut the lead to one just over two minutes into the quarter. They kept it close for a few more minutes before the Bucks stomped on the gas pedal, embarking on a 15-4 run which built the lead to 15. Giannis took a breather at the 3:45 mark with his team up 11 but even without their superstar, Milwaukee’s advantage grew to 19 as the quarter wound down. They led 91-74 entering the fourth.

The Pacers couldn’t get closer than 15 during the early fourth as the Bucks opened their lead up to 22 with 5:27 remaining when the last of both teams’ starters (excepting Bobby Portis) exited. While the Pacers’ deep bench managed to chip into the lead one point more than their actual rotation could, the Bucks’ deep bench answered as the minutes ticked by and cruised to an 18-point victory, their 7th straight.

What Did We Learn?

Recently, Milwaukee has pretty successfully implemented both a matchup zone and a 2-3 zone. Instead of going to it just a few possessions as they may have last year, Bud throws the zone on opponents throughout the course of the game lately. Brook Lopez is obviously the master of the Bucks’ base zone-drop scheme but the Bucks stuck to it even in his absence. This wasn’t very effective when Giannis—who is best in his signature off-ball “free safety” role that won him Defensive Player of the Year—was the lone big in the rotation, but when Bobby Portis entered the lineup it was still their primary look on the defensive end. That’s changed during this win streak and tonight they relied frequently on a 2-3 zone, which looked great. Beyond simply holding Indiana to 100 points on 41.3% shooting (26.7% from deep), the eye test backed up those impressive defensive numbers. Bucks were flying around the perimeter as the Pacers moved the ball (which they did pretty well), closing out on open shooters more frequently as the game progressed. Perhaps uncoincidentally, Indiana was 2/12 on three-point attempts in the second after hitting 6/14 in the first, then just 4/19 after the half.

Three Bucks

Bobby Portis’ impact came early and often on both ends. In the midst of maybe his most productive stretch as a Buck, Portis displayed three-level scoring ability by hitting from every area of the floor tonight. Though going 3/4 in the paint and 1/3 from downtown might appear pedestrian, he got to the line four times and finished with 15, 11 of which came in the first half as the Bucks struggled to shoot. On defense, he ate Domantas Sabonis’ lunch several times (more on the Indiana big man’s night below) and goaded him into an offensive foul which was upheld on a Pacers challenge.

Jrue Holiday is getting back to normal at the rim. Perhaps as a result of his early-season lower-body injuries, Holiday has struggled to finish down low: entering tonight’s game he was shooting just 50% in the restricted area, down from 70.4% last year and 61.1% for his career. He hit 4 of his first 5 attempts before missing 3 bunnies/layups in just one minute (including one blocked by his older brother), but he shook it off to finish a sensational 10/14 in the paint and a team-high +23, including some nice spin finishes. Though his night wasn’t super efficient with 23/7/9 on 21 shots, it was a big help as Khris Middleton was quiet with 14/5/5 on 6/13 shooting. The Cheese Machine pointed out in the comments of the rapid recap that this was his third straight game shooting over 50%. Before this three-game stretch, he hadn’t shot 50% in any game since October 23rd, coming right before he sat out a couple of weeks due to the injuries.

George Hill’s mark on this game was obvious. If you’ve been checking box scores lately, you’ll notice how almost every night Hill leads the team in plus/minus, despite usually scoring single digits and generally not having an outstanding individual stat line. This positive impact is not usually seen on the stat sheet but it’s not always noticeable to the naked eye either. Tonight I thought it was more visible, especially this sequence with 9:22 left in the fourth: Hill grabbed an offensive rebound while the Pacers were going small, kicked it out with a neat bounce pass to Grayson Allen in the corner who fumbled it to Holiday, who then found Giannis for a dunk that pushed the lead to 20 and forced an Indiana timeout. It’s not even a hockey assist since Allen “passed” it to the assisting player, but it stuck out to me as a play that Hill initiated with his hustle and craftiness. It’s moments like that—ones you don’t always notice—that validate the plus/minus. He also had a great statistical night: 13 points and 6 boards on 3/8 shooting with 6/6 shooting at the line.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Whatever adjustments Bud made in the locker room to deal with Caris LeVert, it worked. As mentioned, he had 18 first-half points—including 10 of Indiana’s 12 points leading into halftime—but scored only 5 points in just 8 second-half minutes.
  • Milwaukee shot 22.9% from three-point territory tonight after four games where they shot a combined 44.2%. They headed into halftime at 3/15 and that didn’t really improve in the second half. Maybe such a mean regression was due, but it makes their 62-36 edge in the paint mean that much more when the shooting is so cold.
  • While they made hay at the rim on one end, shooting a whopping 80% (20/25) within 4 feet, they protected it very well on the other. Indy missed a whole slew of layups and was 10/21 (47.6%) within 4 feet, a rate which would fall into the 6th percentile league-wide. Nasty!
  • Notably, Pacers star big man Domantas Sabonis was the most glaring example of Indiana’s interior struggles. Though Milwaukee has stymied him almost as suffocatingly in recent seasons, this was exceptional. Sabonis was scoreless at the half and 0 for his first 7 from the floor. His first points came at the charity stripe 4 minutes into the third and his only field goal at the 4:46 mark of that quarter. Several of these misses were point-blank but only one was blocked (by Portis). He finished 1/8 with 4 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 dimes.
  • Giannis is shooting 61.4% from the line on the road versus 72.8% at home. He missed his first three and it looked like he had some words with an official about when he wanted to receive the ball from them during his routine. He then hit 6 of his next 7.
  • For good measure, Pat Connaughton clowned Indy with just under 3 minutes to go, hitting Jeremy Lamb with a series of jab steps before sinking a 25-footer in his face.
  • Malcolm Brogdon continues to be mediocre against his former team, putting up 16/3/2 on 5/12 shooting (2/8 on threes). Entering tonight, The President has only faced the Bucks 5 times since leaving Milwaukee, averaging 13.6 points and 7 assists with an awful .368/.250/.875 shooting line. That new haircut is questionable too.
  • Also from the comments on the rapid, GIF maven JSOnline Castaway 2.0 noted that over their past 25 quarters played, the Bucks have lost only four of them.
  • Since Bud took over in 2018, the Bucks are now an insane 42-4 against their Central Division rivals. Giannis only played in one of those four losses: December 12, 2018 at Indiana with yours truly in attendance, being dunked on by Pacers fans.
  • Marques Johnson is an absolute treasure and he’s been on fire lately with his quips during broadcasts. I can’t think of another color commentator who knows so much about ball while being so witty and entertaining than our man Marques. After Lisa Byington mentioned that Milwaukeeans chant “BOB-BY! BOB-BY!” at Portis while he pumps his gas, Marques said something to the effect of “don’t be near him when he passes gas.” The broadcast was then silent for several seconds as I assume Lisa was choked up with laughter at how ridiculous this man is.
  • How can you not like this guy?
  • Finally, in the wake of some news earlier today, I leave you with this:

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