It wasn’t as rousing a contest as the Christmas Day Comeback, but the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic, 127-110. The first quarter was a slow-but-steady exercise in lead-building from the Bucks, as the Milwaukee lead was buoyed by a trio of Bobby Portis threes flanked by a bunch of buckets from others. But the second quarter saw a scoring explosion as Milwaukee grew their advantage beyond the 20-point mark, as the short handed Magic simply didn’t have enough talent to muster much resistance.
The Bucks maintained a steady lead throughout the first half and entered halftime up 72-45. You could forgive the hometown fans if they left, as they weren’t exactly interested in sticking around after all that, but the Orlando faithful were rewarded with a revitalized Magic squad that pulled off a 37-point quarter and cut the Bucks’ lead back down to single digits within the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
The Magic comeback was not destined to happen though, as Jrue Holiday canned a three and then bent the defense for an easy Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk in the final minutes of the fourth. Credit to Orlando for refusing to give up, and credit to Milwaukee for refusing to let a lesser team all the way back into the contest.
And we get to do this all again on Thursday! Wheeeeeeee!
Hello, Protocols, my old friend…
Magic guard Hassani Gravett started tonight against the #Bucks, played 19 minutes and was placed in the league’s health and safety protocols before the game ended.— Scott Grodsky (@ScottGrodsky) December 29, 2021
Gravett, a 25-year old rookie on his second 10-day “hardship” contract with the Magic, started at point guard and played 18 minutes until the fourth quarter, where he apparently was removed from play due to (presumably) a positive COVID test. That means that Gravett shared the court with…well, everybody, running and jumping and generally exerting himself.
It is not Gravett’s fault that he ended up with a positive test, and if you look at the standards the NBA upholds compared to other entities in the United States, you might not even blame the league for (somehow) allowing him to play with the virus in his system. At this point, given the duration of the pandemic and the collective “over it” everyone feels (as evidenced by <gesticulates wildly at everything>), it seems inevitable that this will be the new normal. Gravett may have been the first, but he’s not likely to be the last player taken out of competition during a contest.
It’s possible it was a false positive, or there was some egregious breakdown in the process, but whether it was a player or a fan sitting courtside, the virus will continue to spread for as long as we continue insisting on congregating indoors and in close proximity. We’ll know more as time goes by; what we at least know already is that the Bucks have a number of players (Giannis, Khris, Bobby, Donte, Wes) who just recently exited the protocols and therefore may remain available despite the exposure. Stay tuned…
When he’s on, Bobby Portis is on. The unofficial mayor of Milwaukee scored 17 in the first half, including 5-for-5 on threes, and his point production was the kind of lift that a team gets when someone is fully locked into their role. To be clear, there is no argument to the contrary with Bobby, as he has fully embraced the job he’s asked to do and executes it at a high level.
If you're a big man that helps in transition as Giannis Antetokounmpo brings it up the floor, Bobby Portis is hitting a 3 on you from the top of the key.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) December 29, 2021
Curiously, Portis ended his evening at 19 points, making only a single shot in the final 30 seconds of the game. It’s not that he suddenly hit a cold streak, but that the Milwaukee offense simply wasn’t finding him in his spots after halftime. But still, Portis is a talented player who’s comfortable in his role, and there’s little doubt about Bobby’s enthusiasm for playing winning basketball and preferring his situation in Milwaukee to other environments.
What was with that third quarter? With 10:05 remaining in the third, Milwaukee led 76-48 and the rout was all the way on. Before you knew it had happened, merely three minutes of game time later at the 7:00 mark, the Bucks still had 76…and Orlando had jumped all the way up to 66. Within that stretch of time, the Magic made four three-pointers and capitalized off of three Milwaukee turnovers, while the Bucks committed a number of shooting fouls and missed as many jumpers as Orlando made. It was a short stretch that got the Magic back into it, which as any professional athlete will tell you, is not what you want.
Pat Connaughton: It's making sure when we have a lead, especially a lead of that magnitude, we don't give a team life. When they get life and they get a rhythm, it's the NBA. They'll make shots. They'll come back. The second the momentum swings, it's tough to get back.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) December 29, 2021
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Robin Lopez (more on him later) led the Magic in scoring with six at the end of the first quarter, and the method he uses to get his points continues to baffle me. When Robin gets the ball in the post – and this has been the case for years – he’s going to his right hand for a hook shot. No amount of pivoting is going to make him take any other shot. I know it, you know it, he knows it, his defender knows it, the people working concessions know it, everybody knows it…but he still converts the shot most of the time. It is simply maddening.
- Donte DiVincenzo is clearly still trying to find his NBA footing this season (pun not intended), but in the second quarter he blew up a pass and deflected the ball out of bounds in one of his trademark gambles that entrails viewers…when it works. He played less than 20 minutes again and took a number of decent looks from deep (making 1-of-5), while also knifing into the lane to earn free throws and set up teammates. Good signs of progress for Donte.
- This isn’t news, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player as emotive when getting called for fouls as DeMarcus Cousins. Boogie picked up a (relatively fair) personal foul in the second quarter, and quickly picked up a technical foul for good measure. But Cousins’ willingness to throw his weight around is still an element the Bucks otherwise lack while Brook Lopez remains inactive, so you take the good with the bad I suppose.
- The Bucks had the ball pinging around today, piling up 19 assists on 26 made field goals in the first half and 31 dimes total. A number of those assists came on plays where Milwaukee caught the Magic in rotation and confidently moved the ball ahead of the defense, resulting in easy looks and numerous makes.
- Giannis and Wendell Carter Jr. bumped knees early in the third quarter, an occurrence that completely insignificant but still made me paranoid, and made even less noteworthy since Giannis threw down an alley-oop off a steal from the next defensive possession. Consider it another reminder that Giannis is some sort of supreme being we may never fully comprehend.
- If the last bullet point was Exhibit A, below is Exhibit B:
bug vs. windshield on the highway, but basketball. pic.twitter.com/a7wU89lSSw— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) December 29, 2021
- Magic rookie Franz Wagner showed out, putting up 38 points on fantastic efficiency by finding angles to the rim and making enough jumpers to keep the Milwaukee defense from keying in on him too much. Wagner even challenged Giannis at the rim, and won, late in the fourth quarter, showing an uncanny level of body control for a rookie and great game awareness to boot, as Giannis had 5 fouls and could not contest the shot as normal.
- ROBIN LOPEZ, PLEASE COME BACK. The other Lopez twin was a much-beloved Buck two seasons ago, and it’s clear the locker room would absolutely accommodate a return.
Robin signed a one-year, MLE-level contract with Orlando this past offseason, and given their place in the bottom of the standings it’s reasonable to predict that they could part ways with their Lopez brother. Is a reunion with his Milwaukee brethren possible, or even advisable? Time will tell, but in the meantime we can still enjoy the shenanigans these goofs get up to.