What happens when an unstoppable force meets a somewhat-easily moved object? It probably looks something like the Milwaukee Bucks’ blowout win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. Milwaukee was focused on punishing Minnesota at the rim, and while the Wolves kept pace for a little while, a huge run in the second quarter put this game out of reach, spoiling Chris Finch’s debut as the Timberwolves’ new head coach.
What Did We Learn?
When the Bucks’ offense hits the gas, you better get out of the way. Milwaukee continues to boast a top-end offensive rating on the season, but they struggled to contain the basement-dwelling Wolves for most of the first two quarters. That said, the final stretch of the first half illustrate just how deadly the Bucks can be. With 5:52 remaining in the second quarter, the Bucks were up by one single point. Thanks to an ill-timed drought on jumpers from the Wolves, Milwaukee went on a 21-3 run that was punctuated by a quartet of threes from (in order) Brook, Augustin, Khris, and Donte. That flurry created a 17-point deficit for Minnesota to have to climb out of, a far cry from the back-and-forth contest they were in a few minutes before. This ability to break a game open with timely stops and steady shot-making underscores the Bucks’ path to success in the postseason; their offense is too talented to not go on a significant streak, so while the defensive struggles may be frustrating to watch they do not disqualify the Bucks from legitimate contention in the playoffs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to climb up the Bucks’ all-time leaderboards. With a fast break dunk in the third quarter and a 37/8/8 stat line on the night, Giannis passed Bobby Dandridge for fifth-place on the franchise scoring list. The only players between him and the top spot are Michael Redd (11,554 points), Sidney Moncrief (11,594 points), Glenn Robinson (12,010 points), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14,211 points). At only 26 years old and having committed to another five years in Milwaukee, it won’t be long until Antetokounmpo is the leading scorer in franchise history. He’s only a little over 100 points behind Moncrief for third place, so at his current pace he may meet that milestone by the All Star break. From there, it’s just the Big Dog and Kareem left.
- The defense continued to show cracks in the armor. The rims were nice and loose on Milwaukee’s side, but the Timberwolves enjoyed some forgiving iron on their end as well. Minnesota cooled off considerably as the game wore on (19/54 on threes for the night), but the Bucks only kept up with the Wolves’ shot making by capitalizing on turnovers early on. Milwaukee started the game defending Minnesota’s pick-and-rolls with a slightly modified zone drop. Lopez was dropping only to the free throw line (rather than to the bottom of the circle in the lane), so that he could close out against the inevitable threes from Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns himself didn’t do a ton of damage (1-for-6) from outside, but elsewhere shooters like Malik Beasley (6-for-9), Jordan McLaughlin (3-for-7), and Jaylen Norwell (3-for-6) were perfectly happy to launch shots when their defenders helped off of them.
Milwaukee has three bench scorers opponents will keep tabs on; tonight, all three were locked in. Bryn Forbes (23 points, 5-for-9 from deep) was the headliner, but Bobby Portis (14 points) and DJ Augustin (10 points) did more than pull their weight with Milwaukee’s scoring load. They each have some overlap with their offensive game (particularly as above-the-break shooters), but Augustin is excellent spotting up, Forbes excels at shooting on the move, and Portis is able to score at all three levels plus running lanes hard in transition. Minnesota’s defense is less than stout, but having all three clicking simultaneously while the starters are productive (the non-Augustin starters posted 80 combined points) is a fun sight to see, and reinforces Milwaukee’s arsenal in a potential showdown against the league’s other top-tier offenses.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- A word about Khris Middleton’s All Star snub, as reported before tonight’s game by The Athletic’s Shams Charania: meh. No, really. It’s fine. Given the Bucks’ goals for this year, individual accolades are simply less interesting for them than they were the past few seasons. I would have preferred Khris make it over Zach LaVine or Nikola Vucevic, since I consider him a better player on a better team than those two, but all of the reserves had reasonable cases, and two other All Stars from last season (Domantas Sabonis and Bam Adebayo) also missed the cut. Hopefully Khris can enjoy the break and the Bucks can use the second half of the season as a runway for the playoffs.
"But you never want to take away from, there's a lot of guys that are deserving. The players that were selected, I would never say they are not also deserving, but he's in our locker room...We certainly feel like he's an All-Star and proven it and proved it again this year" - Bud— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 24, 2021
- In the meantime, Middleton continues to pull himself out of his self-described slump. Khris shot only 31.6% from the field (6-for-19 overall, but 3-for-6 from three), and in general seemed to still be out of sorts. Perhaps he’s just impatient for when Jrue Holiday will be back...
Cool to see Jrue Holiday dancing, smiling (behind the mask) and generally interacting and having fun with his teammates. There are so many unknowns with the virus and health and safety protocol so it's just really nice to see him back on the bench and in good spirits.— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) February 24, 2021
- Karl-Anthony Towns is the Wolves’ best player, but new head coach Chris Finch will have his hands full finding ways to help Minnesota survive on defense with KAT having such a prominent role. Few players have had a rougher year than Towns, so no matter what it’s encouraging to see him continue coming back from his bout with COVID-19.
Thanasis just dove on that ball like a fumble in a football game. https://t.co/Pc1QryWjoY— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 24, 2021
- Thanasis Antetokounmpo continued to demonstrate that he will try harder for a loose ball than literally anybody else in the world. In the first quarter, an offensive rebound got poked away from Bobby Portis and Thanasis laid all the way out to get the ball and call a timeout, immediately sprinting to the Bucks’ bench once the whistle blew. He is the epitome of #EnergyAndEffort and is showing that he will go all-out, all the time, whether as a regular part of the rotation or a member of the deep bench.
- I get why people reacted poorly when Nate Duncan posted Anthony Edwards’ stat line shortly after Edwards dunked Yuta Wantabe into the earth’s core a few days ago...but Edwards has a long way to go to meet the expectations of his draft position. He’s a rookie, and rookies are generally bad, but he didn’t make a shot inside the arc and earned no free throws.
- Donte DiVincenzo and Bobby Portis displayed some nifty chemistry at the end of the first, connecting on a fast break opportunity and a lightning-quick dump-off pass to beat the end-of-quarter buzzer. Donte has been actively working on his driving game and tonight he showed more comfort with attacking the seam and making good decisions with the ball. As a primary initiator, he’s still overmatched, but Donte is developing his skills as a second-side attacker, which is good for his NBA longevity.
- Giannis got several dunks tonight, but one in the second quarter was so nasty that he got called for a technical foul! He did perhaps stare down Karl-Anthony Towns with one of his patented mean mugs for a bit too long, but he again put Towns under the basket with ease shortly thereafter, as if to reestablish dominance.
- Minnesota doesn’t have any rim protection. They just don’t. Towns has a well-earned reputation as a poor defender, but I can’t think of anyone on their roster who put up any credible resistance against Milwaukee, either from dribble-drive penetration or Giannis post-ups. I know I covered this in an earlier bullet point, it’s that bad.
- Bucks rookie Sam Merrill, recently recalled from the G-League bubble, entered the game at around the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter, getting valuable experience on the court alongside Middleton, Lopez, Connaughton, and Augustin. He appeared to be active on defense and got a catch-and-shoot three to fall after curling around a screen, so naturally Bucks Twitter will clamor for him to start over DiVincenzo on Thursday.
- Notably not getting any playing time, even in a blowout, were Torrey Craig and D.J. Wilson. Both players have the perception that their upside is on the defensive end, and in a game like tonight’s their versatile abilities to cover with length might have shored up Milwaukee’s defensive woes. Then again, neither player is a particular positive on offense, so perhaps Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to miss out on the scoring he got from elsewhere on the roster. For any transaction-happy fans out there, Craig and Wilson have a combined salary of $6.23 million, so go find a deal on the trade machine that matches that money and be sure to tag the Bucks when posting on social media.