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Milwaukee vs. Houston: Giannis, Bucks Ground Rockets

A thrilling fourth quarter got Milwaukee back on track.

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

When the Milwaukee Bucks dropped their first contest of this four-game road trip in uninspiring fashion, it felt like the championship shine was finally wearing off. Through three quarters against the Houston Rockets, that trend seemed to continue, but Giannis Antetokounmpo put together a fabulous fourth quarter to pull Milwaukee out of the mud and into the win column.

What Did We Learn?

One of my favorite tv shows is The Wire, and one of my favorite lines from The Wire is “All the pieces matter.” In basketball, it’s not just the big plays, the highlights, the impressive scoring lines, but it’s the little things, and the Bucks are a team that is invincible when they put the proper focus on the little things. All the pieces matter, after all.

The fourth quarter in Houston is an excellent example of that. Down 95-90, the Bucks had struggled to keep up their scoring output alongside Houston’s blistering pace, and the Rockets had enjoyed some hot shooting that helped them maintain a lead. But the Bucks took advantage of some missed free throws from the Rockets, some turnovers and a defensive three second call provided enough of a boost to even the score, and then Giannis went to one of his newest tricks to retake the lead.

Giannis got going after this shot, and Bucks would not relinquish their lead after that. Playing on the road is tough, but when you focus on doing the little things – or in this case, on taking advantage of the little opportunities that start to line up – you start to gain the upper hand on the margins, which leads to a lead on the scoreboard. All the pieces matter.

Three Observations

Let’s just look at that alley oop one more time. It wasn’t the same situation or stakes as Game 5 in Phoenix last year, but Jrue Holiday coming up with a steal and Giannis throwing down the alley oop is a song on the album I’m simply never skipping.

If not for Giannis, this team wouldn’t be special. We’ve seen some squads that have punched above their weight in Milwaukee, and even when you get some good players (even if they’re not a Big Three) together they don’t approach just how tremendous these Bucks are with the Greek Freak at the helm. 41 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks is a pretty awesome night, and Milwaukee needed every bit of it to come back against the Rockets.

Get well soon, Brook! Not to throw shade at the Bucks’ front court, especially on a night where Bobby Portis poured in 21 points and 3(!) blocks, but the Rockets controlled the game for the majority of the minutes because the Bucks were not able to deter activity in the paint. Portis’ mobility makes the Bucks more aggressive on their pick-and-roll coverage, but that aggression makes the team more prone to vulnerability by way of open three-point looks, which the Rockets hit at a high clip tonight. And DeMarcus Cousins, the closest thing to Brook on the active roster, simply cannot accumulate as many fouls (4) as he plays minutes (also 4) if he wants to stick around past his contract’s guarantee date. Milwaukee won this game but the defense was clearly in need of their anchor.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Melanie Ricks is stepping in for Zora Stephenson to do some sideline work! You might know her from her role as the MC at Fiserv Forum, but she’s apparently joining the team on their road trip to try out something different. Kudos to her!
  • Khris Middleton (21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 5-for-11 on threes) quietly continues to settle into his normal form after an extended break due to the league’s health and safety protocols. More outings like this will eventually restart the “Is Khris Middleton underrated?” conversation.
  • The Bucks had a bad night at the line (24-for-32, only 75.0%) but the Rockets were much worse (11-for-20, 55.0%).
  • After allowing two-way player Caleb Martin reach a career high in scoring (28 points) on Wednesday, the Bucks allowed two-way player Garrison Mathews to reach a career high in scoring (23 points). Let’s, uh, let’s not keep this going, guys.
  • Houston absolutely obliterated Milwaukee in the assist category (30 to 19), a product of their high-octane offense and hot shooting for much of the game. But it was the Bucks who took advantage of Houston’s speed, leading in fast break points by a huge margin (27 to 5).
  • Pat Connaughton still hasn’t cooled off from last year’s playoffs, notching 16 points on 8 shots, including 4-for-5 on threes!
  • Mike Budenholzer earned a technical foul for arguing a foul call against...Rodney Hood. Why, Bud? Why was that worth it?
  • Giannis never, and I mean never, misses an opportunity to put it on against one of “his guys.” Antetokounmpo is famously reserved among his NBA counterparts, but every so often he and a teammate establish a friendly rapport out of the competition that happens in practice. We saw it with Thon Maker, and we know how that went. Needless to say, Giannis doesn’t often tweet after games but apparently made an exception for his old friend Christian Wood.
  • Ever the try-hard, Giannis attempted to make an outlet pass off of the other team’s backboard. When asked about it postgame, here’s what he said:

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