What’s that? I can’t embed a single highlight and have it count as a recap? Are you sure? Well, okay...
What Did We Learn?
Against the right opponent, the base defense works like a charm. Memphis doesn’t boast a floor-stretching big (at least not while Jaren Jackson Jr. remains sidelined), so Brook Lopez’s limitations in a defensive coverage that isn’t zone drop are far less of a liability than they are against more versatile offenses. Milwaukee was able to maintain control throughout the first half, but it didn’t last. When things started getting hairy in the fourth quarter and Memphis took a lead, Milwaukee went to a smaller lineup and switched actions regularly, but the Grizzlies (who don’t rely on shooting threes) didn’t mind so much.
Bucks take the use it or lose it with 3:27 left. They're down, 104-101.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) March 5, 2021
They've been switching on defense and it hasn't really bothered Morant. With as little as he wants to shoot it, he seems like someone they could go under against and keep the preferred matchup.
We also learned that the Bucks can manufacture points in tough games. The Grizzlies are not on the same tier as the Los Angeles Clippers, but anybody who watched this one knows that the Bucks were subjected to highly-physical defense from Memphis, and that their offensive troubles were at least partly caused by the abundance of contact they had received whenever they ventured near the basket. That by itself makes this one a tough game, and after being down 7 points with 6:44 remaining, the Bucks were able to outscore the Grizzlies 21 to 13, mostly on free throws and shots at the rim. Those stretches aren’t always fun to watch, but they’re the stretches that can mean the difference between a win and a loss in the postseason, which is what this regular season is all about.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s playmaking feels less like a bonus and more like a standard. He ended the game with a team-high 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists, and that last figure could have easily cracked double-digits if other Bucks could have converted on their end of his passes.
Giannis having one of those nights where a triple-double will be automatic if the other guys can make their bunnies— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) March 5, 2021
It was perhaps easy to miss by scanning the box score, but Khris Middleton struggled for much of this game. His telepathic correspondance with Giannis aside (more on that later), he posted 22 points (on 6/17 shooting, including 1/4 on threes), 10 rebounds, but 4 assists vs. 4 turnovers. There were several points where offensive possessions got interrupted by the ball getting loose or knocked astray, making it all the more satisfying when he helped get the Bucks back into it at the end. On the year, he’s had an excellent campaign so far, but as the video below notes there’s always room for improvement.
Khris Middleton is the NBA's most underrated player. He's dropping 20 points on nearly 50-40-90. He's a playmaker. He's versatile. He plays defense.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) March 4, 2021
I wonder if there's even more to his game that the Bucks can tap into.
New video breakdown on Middleton: https://t.co/yVXWSoMtGj pic.twitter.com/AhlsXvd6Ix
The Bucks need the break. Every team does, but Milwaukee should thoroughly appreciate the opportunity to recombobulate (hat tip to Dan Shafer, as always). They have continued to implement significant systemic changes without the benefit of practice time, and while those changes are not yet working smoothly, there are still over 30 games with which the team can hone in on what they need to do to get ready for the postseason. Moreover, their most important offseason acquisition (Jrue Holiday, the guy who won the game tonight) continues to recover from a bout with COVID-19, which other NBA players have extensive struggles coming back from.
Despite their success, the Bucks are under a lot of scrutiny, both from fans at home and foes elsewhere in the NBA. The last two years of success seemingly count for nothing, and they haven’t yet demonstrated that they’re truly improved until the playoffs come around in May. Even still, they are 22-14, which is third in the East (and only a pair of games behind first-place Philly) and have just won 6 of their last 7. They are set up to recapture the same level of success that we expected, but with additional layers of flexibility and versatility that they failed to develop before. The path ahead is still rough, but the outlook is far less grim than some would have you believe.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The microphones inside FedEx Forum were either unplugged or nonexistent, because viewing the game on League Pass contained some of the most muffled game audio I’ve ever heard. I generally want to hear more of the on-court action, not less, so whenever the silence was pierced by Jim Paschke or Steve Novak’s commentary, their voices boomed through my speakers as if they were trying to break out.
- Pat Connaughton, widely maligned for the contract he signed, might have had one of the best 30+ game stretches of his career, and capped it with 15 points (including 3/7 threes) and 9 rebounds and some clutch play down the stretch to fuel the comeback. He also has been the fifth member of the Bucks’ small ball unit, alongside Jrue, Donte, Khris, and Giannis, which makes a lot of sense considering the other roster options and what Pat has excelled at thus far this season. He’s an excellent rebounder for his size, has enough strength to hold his own in the post, and is versatile enough on offense to both space the floor and attack the basket.
- Thanasis Antetokounmpo was subbed into the game at the 3:26 mark of the first quarter, ending his short-lived ouster from the regular rotation. He capped the quarter with a breakaway dunk that came off a turnover created by his frenetic energy. He’s in the rotation, folks, we can either resist it or accept it, because he’s playing.
- You might have missed it, but big brother Giannis climbed up another rung on the Bucks’ franchise scoring ladder on this dunk, passing Sidney Moncrief for third place all-time:
A dunk for the Bucks history books. pic.twitter.com/x90d4CUZtx— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 5, 2021
Giannis also managed to nab third place on the Bucks’ list of career assists in this one. Weird game to have two milestones passed, but the whole season has been weird.
MARV ALBERT: “...we’re now hearing, that Thanasis is older than Giannis...”
- Bobby Portis had a quiet night by his standards (8 points on 6 shots, only 3 boards in 15 minutes of action), but he did not remain quiet on one of his first half dunks.
- Giannis “earned” a technical foul in the second quarter, for what I’m still not certain. It follows a league-wide trend we’ve seen with referees and, shall we say, quick whistles when it comes to imposing penalties for players expressing their discontentment. Perhaps refs are just as eager to get a break from the players as the players are looking forward to getting space from the refs.
- Sound on for this one. Zora Stephenson spoke it into existence.
- Jrue Holiday had the ball with 2.6 seconds left before halftime, about 5 feet behind the arc...and the possession ended with a made layup. No, really. He clearly has a knack for scoring in the final seconds of play.
- Bryn Forbes wasn’t able to get it going tonight. he missed all 3 of his threes and managed to only play 12 minutes; Memphis’ perimeter defenders were eager to deny him the ball and when he isn’t splashing long-range jumpers, he doesn’t have much reason to be on the court.
- Donte DiVincenzo (7 points, 7 boards, 4 assists) had a miserable night shooting the ball, going 2-for-9 from the field and had a pair of ugly misses at the basket. He also had a nasty-looking ankle turn in the fourth quarter (though he remained in the game), so hopefully the break from game action does him some good.
- New meme format: go!