It was, perhaps, the oddest week of the Milwaukee Bucks season for this edition. It started with 30 minutes of punishing the Boston Celtics before an abrupt nosedive. It detoured into Bud’s Backup Adventure Zone, and ended with a sigh-inducing drop out West. The whole “what’s up with Giannis?” of it all made for both anxious and dispiriting watching, particularly with how he obscures any and all ailments that might have befallen him. Regardless, Wednesday’s don’t care whether the games were Wow-worthy or downright weird, let’s wrap-up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 121, Boston 119 (Bucks Survive Against Celtics)
- Milwaukee 114, Boston 122 (Celtics Vault Past Bucks)
- Milwaukee 96, New York 102 (Shorthanded Bucks come up Short)
- Milwaukee 105, Los Angeles 129 (Bucks Clipped in Los Angeles)
With back-to-back nationally televised games, Milwaukee started this weekly segment with a chance to both embarrass the struggling Boston Celtics and hold serve with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers atop the East. That narrative seemed promising for about 30 minutes on Wednesday night before the wheels, axle, muffler, door(??) fell off. Whatever parts of a car could be stripped while still maintaining a functioning vehicle. That’s what the Bucks were. You get it. They held onto a Thein lead Wednesday as Daniel Theis’s three-pointer caromed off, and with it went the veteran big man to Chicago. Theis’s departure led to Robert Williams playing on Friday and the Bucks just never had it that night despite remarkably keeping it close through two periods. They couldn’t keep up with a 9-14 third period from deep for the Celtics. Tatum finally got hot, and Giannis looked hobbled and unwilling to attack.
After that display, Bud just tossed out the scrubs and pulled out every knick in the book for his players to justify resting them against the Knicks. Tom Thibodeau’s team busted through Bud’s zone against a parade of scrubs. Credit to the backup dudes for not rolling over. The Clippers game was just rotten from the first quarter on. Giannis finally looked right, but LA couldn’t miss from deep and the Bucks were left in Luke Kennard’s dust.
I like Brook getting an easy bucket early against the New York Knicks, but, I have to go way back to last Wednesday against the Celts for my personal favorite opening set from this four-game group.
I don’t feel like Bud cues stuff up for Jrue Holiday all that often on the opening set, or when he does score it’s due to some savvy cut or making something out of nothing. This one felt more teed up for him.
As per usual, come on Sargento. BUT, we get some magic happening here that results from ball movement to take advantage of Boston’s switch-heavy scheme.
It begins with Holiday passing it to Donte, who’s whirling up from his usual corner spot past Brook. Boston switches, putting Kemba Walker on Holiday while Brown guards Donte. Holiday promptly plops Walker’s thin frame to the floor (no call, thankfully). Donte cuts down the lane to free up above the arc for Brook, as Holiday holds the ball a beat to keep Theis’s attention and dishes it up to Brook atop the key.
Then, Khris curls up from the right corner around a screen from Giannis. Lopez, guarded by Walker now, flips the ball to Middleton above the break. Theis is left near the paint, and finds himself having to guard Holiday, a clear mismatch if ever there was one. Khris swiftly deals the ball (yep, that’s TWO players Sargento is cheese-blocking here) to the other side of the floor for an open Holiday in the corner. It’s free sailing from there. Donte being in the dunker spot snuffs out Holiday’s chance to dribble past his mismatch, but he nails the triple to put the Bucks on the board early. Not only was this the kind of inclusive possession I always enjoy watching, but it purposefully took the Celtics switch-heavy approach and exploited it to get Holiday on an ill-equipped defender.
On the StruggleBucks
I would normally prefer to spare Giannis from this space given there was clearly something hampering his knee against the Celtics. And thankfully, he looked much more like himself (a few missed bunnies aside) against the Los Angeles Clippers. But I’m into public service, and this week, the most important thing I can do is document how his poor performances against Boston were clear flukes. May this serve as a vital document for any Celtics fans jawing about the godlike defense of Brad Stevens in a potential Playoff series. So, let’s take a look at why these two games seemed so uncharacteristically Giannis.
For starters, Giannis has 133 dunks this year. Appearing in 43 games thus far, that averages out to 3.09 dunks per contest. How many did he have in two games against Boston? Two. Just two dunks, both of which came in the Friday game. One was on Tacko Fall (and predictably awesome), the other was against Aaron Nesmith, a rookie who he could’ve decimated time and again on the switch.
His first shot Wednesday set the tone for a less than dominating, dunkalicious evening though. He backed down Marcus Smart and went for a baseline turnaround jumper rather than continue to try to impose his will. We saw that shot several more times from him against Boston rather than trying to challenge Smart and get deeper into the paint. He’s certainly practiced that shot this year, but it was the frequency with which he went to it and the absence of his usual aggression in the paint. He used the same tactic even against Semi Ojeleye AND Grant Williams, both weaker defenders than Smart.
This is one of my least favorite Giannis shots. It’s rad when it goes in, but feels needlessly difficult when he could be trying to hone a hook shot in the paint. But, I understand he doesn’t always want to twirl his body directly into the restricted area hordes. He used the same shot against the Clippers a few times too, even if he looked more competent heading to the hoop. Still, here’s a few days prior to the Celtics matchup when he bodies up someone of a semi-similar build in Rudy Gay. He’s more than willing to shift into the paint and push Gay deeper to free up an easier turnaround jumper.
He does that a few more times against other defenders in the Spurs game. Maybe there’s something to the really stout Celtics defenders with low centers of gravity, but it can’t be enough to force Giannis into difficult jumpers time and again.
There are more weird examples from Boston. There’s a drive against Jaylen Brown where Giannis forces up a circus shot falling out of bounds rather than show patience with some pivoting. In Friday’s game, he misses an easy layup right at the start. In two games against Boston, he attempted merely seven shots within 0-5 feet. Per game, he averages 10 shots in that hay-making region. Even something as simple as this play below, where he pulls up as opposed to continuing down the lane this season either for an aggressive finish or to draw more defenders and kick to a dunker spot cutter, felt uncharacteristic given his recent play.
Sure, I get diversifying the offense, but challenging someone like Robert Williams, starting in their first NBA game this season, seems like a first order of business for the reigning MVP. He was back to eight shot attempts within 0-5 feet against the Clips, so it was nice to see him return to being aggressive. Here’s a perfect example.
If he could do this against Zubac, there’s no reason he wouldn’t have been able to do it against any Celtics defenders if he had been right. It wasn’t even just the shots, it was the types of passes Giannis was making too against Boston. Even when he got dangerously close to the rim, he was kicking it out to shooters more often than normal. There was also this possession, where the ball was clearly Giannis’ to grab off the board, but he just stared as Grant Williams waddled his way over. For a dude that averages double digit boards, that just doesn’t look right.
As Bucks fans, we all know it, but hopefully this bit of evidence will help you bat down bothersome Boston fans hopping into your mentions in the future.
Amazingly, Giannis found himself unseated atop the weekly MVP podium last week after he sat out the Indiana Pacers game. Jrue Holiday had a solid week, but that last 28-point, 14-assist performance assuredly helped put him over the top. Either way, it’d be tough to give the MVP to Giannis this week given he missed the Knicks game and we didn’t see the “real” Giannis against the Celts. It should make for an interesting matchup, so let’s see who comes out on top.
Khris Middleton (3 GP: 20.3 pts, 6.3 reb, 3.7 ast)
Khris was cooking tonight:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 25, 2021
27 PTS | 13 REB | 4 AST pic.twitter.com/knpeiCKVhl
Giannis Antetokounmpo (3 GP: 20.3 pts, 7.3 reb, 5.0 ast)
Giannis against Los Angeles:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 30, 2021
32 PTS | 6 REB | 3 AST pic.twitter.com/uXRlcbf3uJ
Jrue Holiday (3 GP: 18.0 pts, 3.0 reb, 4.7 ast, 2.0 stl)
Jrue tonight:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 30, 2021
24 PTS | 7 AST | 4 REB | 3 STL | 57% FG pic.twitter.com/WaasR3kl0n
Week 13: The Bucks MVP was...
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As always, thanks for reading the wrap-up and let me know your weekly MVP thoughts or if there are other trends I should keep my eye on this week and cover in the next edition.