A few months ago, a matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans would have been thought of as a showdown between the “now” and the “future” of the NBA. This game perhaps didn’t live up to that hype because of the star power missing from the floor (get well soon, Zion! Rest up, Giannis!), but it was still a relatively-exciting overtime affair as the Bucks fell in overtime, 116-112.
What Did We Learn?
Last thing the shorthanded Bucks needed tonight was probably overtime. Lot of tired legs out there right now.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) December 18, 2021
Sometimes, small games have big lessons. Today, this game had a few tiny lessons. Miniscule, really, to match the size the Bucks played most of the game with. Outside of Cousins and Mamukelashvili, Milwaukee played an awful lot of time where either Jordan Nwora or Rodney Hood (all 6’8” of them) was the largest player on the court for the Bucks. To their credit, Milwaukee fought to take this one, forcing seven more turnovers than they gave up (20 to 13) despite getting hammered on the boards (57 to 44, minus-13) and fouling like crazy (the Pelicans took twenty more free throws than the Bucks, 30 attempts to 10) to try and gri(f)t their way into a win. So the lesson to take away from this game is this: if you play super-small, play super-aggressive, and you might be able to beat a bad team while missing most of your best players.
If you needed rationale for why DeMarcus Cousins was available on a non-guaranteed deal...tonight is part of why. Without any of their standard rostered bigs, the Bucks started Boogie at center, and he contributed 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 fouls in 16 minutes. The stat line is...fine, for his role, but his role cannot be “starting center.” When you’re the only viable NBA big on the active roster, the mistakes stand out when they take you off the floor and put a two-way player on it; Sandro Mamukelashvili had 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 18 minutes, and looked just as outmatched as you’d imagine. The spotlight on the frontcourt burned even brighter when the opposing center, Jonas Valanciunas, manages 20 points on 15 shots, a vintage Boogie-type performance from years gone by.
From a certain perspective, this was a great game for the Bucks to play. I know, I know, symbolic victories are meaningless and that goes double for the defending champs, but the extended stretches of time where Milwaukee was obviously over-matched and they still were able to force overtime is encouraging when you review which players were tasked with making it happen. Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, we expect these guys to show up big when it counts. But testing someone like Jordan Nwora (14 points and 13 rebounds in 42 minutes) when you have a tough decision on the horizon has some utility, both in terms of knowing what to work on...and what simply won’t work.
Jrue. Hol. I. Day. Given his style of play and his placement in the hierarchy alongside Giannis and Khris Middleton, it’s easy to forget how damn good this dude is.
The bucket by Jrue that extends this game. pic.twitter.com/NUYHdYRJ0y— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 18, 2021
He was not perfect; Jrue needed 36 shots to compile his 40 points, and he dribbled an awful lot on the crucial possessions that could have resulted in Milwaukee taking home the victory. Still, this game would have been an embarrassing blowout against New Orleans if it weren’t for Holiday doing his thing. Imagine how he’ll look alongside Giannis and Khris (and Brook, and Bobby, and Donte...)
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Pat Connaughton hit his first three-pointer of the night...in overtime. He was 0-for-8 up until that point.
- Early in the fourth quarter, Pelicans in-game MCs ran one of those “beat the player” guessing games where the fan had to name more of a certain thing than the pre-recorded player. Tonight’s category was “fruit” and the player...was Brandon Ingram. That itself isn’t notable...I just really wish it were Zion Williamson, talking about fruit for 24 seconds. Either he would get way too many or way too few; there is no in-between.
- Speaking of Brandon Ingram...I get that he’s good, but he’s not that good. Against an undersized opponent, Ingram put together 22 points on 16 shots along with 5 boards, 5 assists, and 3 steals. For a guy who gets All Star buzz, wouldn’t that be an invitation to a feast? Again, he’s good...but... Although single-game plus-minus is a useless stat (analytics nerds forgive me...) the fact that Ingram was a -2 on the game when the other four NOLA starters were double-digit positives, I feel like that has to mean something.
- Josh Hart, on the other hand, that dude was everywhere. Hart posted 11 points, 8 assists, and 15(!) rebounds, making him one of the few guards that seems like he crashes the glass better than the famous Bucks’ backcourt rebounders (Pat and Donte). He’d look pretty good in a Milwaukee jersey, now that you mention it...
- Late in the game, there was a deflating sequence where Cousins got called for a charging foul, and Coach Bud challenged the call. Surprisingly, the call was overturned...and the Bucks promptly turned the ball over, giving up a layup and-one on the other end.
- Devonte’ Graham hit a tough three-point shot with three minutes left in regulation to give New Orleans a five-point lead. It was a big shot that made the lead feel much bigger than it actually was...and he hit an equally big one with 1:20 left, and another one with 2:00 left in OT. If nothing else, this stretch of shot-making is a handy excuse to repost this absurd highlight from Graham the previous night.
- I’ll level with you, dear reader: I wasn’t able to catch most of the first half. I live in California now, and let me take this opportunity to formally condemn the Pacific Time Zone. A 7:00pm CST tip-off happens at 5:00pm for me, right smack-dab in the middle of the time of day when I need to be a “husband” or a “father,” and not when I need to be an “NBA junkie.” We do dinner at 5:30 and put the kids to bed at 7:30, what am I supposed to do with this?! Some people have told me that the West Coast is the Best Coast, but I’ll tell y’all what, this Bucks fan doesn’t see it yet.