In another tightly-contested second half, the Bucks managed to pull off a victory against the Hornets for the first time this year, knocking Charlotte a game below .500 on their home floor. Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 29 points, 12 boards, and 8 dimes as he assaulted the paint with Brook Lopez, who poured in 22 from entirely within 11 feet. Devonte’ Graham spearheaded the Charlotte attack with 25 points and 6 threes. Miles Bridges filled the stat sheet for the Hornets with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, and P.J. Washington scored 12 of his 18 points in the third as Charlotte got back into the game.
It took them several minutes to find their footing on both ends, but early contributions from reserves like P.J. Tucker and Bryn Forbes staked the Bucks to a 33-28 lead after one, led by 11 points from Giannis. Behind some vastly improved defense and a bunch of Charlotte turnovers, Milwaukee’s lead would swell to as much as 18 in the second, heading to the locker room up 62-45.
P.J. Washington caught fire out of halftime as Charlotte began hitting threes (6/9 in the third after just 4/18 from downtown in the first half) and cut the lead to as slim as 5. Outscored 35-25 in quarter number three, the Bucks nursed an 87-80 point lead entering the final period. Giannis scored a quick 6 points as the fourth began to re-establish a double-digit advantage, but Charlotte managed to slice that down to 4 with 4 minutes remaining as the Bucks went cold. After a full timeout, Milwaukee thankfully closed the game with an 11-5 sequence, as a couple of big buckets by the otherwise-iffy Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday kept the lead around 8 points. When the dust settled, the Bucks earned a 114-104 victory.
What Did We Learn?
While they mixed in a few possessions of zone, Milwaukee’s switching defense looked pretty effective both in the second quarter—when they held Charlotte to just 17 points—and down the stretch against smaller lineups, particularly when switch maven P.J. Tucker was on the floor. The veteran logged his highest minute load (26) since joining the Bucks and was tough as nails switching onto younger, smaller defenders like Graham, Terry Rozier (8 points on 4/17 shooting), and Bridges. Yes, the Hornets were making some threes, but it wasn’t often due to being left wide open as the Bucks contested a lot of them.
Giannis imposed his will regularly against a very undersized Charlotte frontline. The Hornets have used 6’7” P.J. Washington at the 5 a lot lately, which was never going to work against a threat like Giannis. It wasn’t just his resistance-free drives or even his 2 three-pointers that impressed me the most tonight, though. He took a number of turnarounds and fadeaways in the short midrange that hit pure nylon, showing how effective his jumper can be against shorter defenders. He also was a perfect 5/5 at the line.
Brook Lopez put on a clinic around the rim, also abusing the Hornets’ “bigs.” While he was 0/2 from deep, Lopez made a huge scoring impact with a throwback, Nets-era performance in the paint. His touch is so soft that even the wildest-looking attempts fall, and he excelled at getting shots up (and in) through traffic by using his length, usually through multiple Hornets.
Bryn Forbes showed up off the bench. After laying a goose egg in Atlanta, Forbes provided a big jolt off the bench with 15 points on 6/10 shooting (3/6 from three). While he didn’t play in the fourth, he had a balanced scoring night with a trey and a long two in each of his three quarters. His 18–20 footer was butter tonight, as he took a few steps in on shot fakes to create open looks, nailing them all.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- With the win and 11 games remaining in the regular season, Milwaukee sits 3.5 games back of Brooklyn for the East’s top seed, but only 2 back of Philadelphia. That tiebreaker the Bucks gained last week could still get them home-court advantage in the second round.
- Tucker entered as the first sub (for Lopez) midway through the first and shared 2 early minutes with Giannis. That combination is something we’re all clamoring for late in games, and we did indeed see quite a bit of it in the closing minutes, but it’s great to see that look early as well.
- While Lopez did hit the bench after picking up his fifth foul with 4 minutes left, Coach Bud chose to close it out going big, reinserting the 7-footer with 2 minutes left to play alongside the other starters. Against the always-small Hornets, it worked pretty well.
- Charlotte was pretty careless with the ball. Of their 17 turnovers, the Bucks were credited with 13 steals.
- Though Milwaukee still has the second-highest team 3P% in the league at 39.4% entering this game, they’re in a bit of a swoon from downtown going 16/63 (27%) these last two games after torching Philly last week.
- Jeff Teague logged his second DNP-CD in the last week, though new two-way player Justin Jackson did dress for the second consecutive game over Rodions Kurucs.
- It was one of Jrue Holiday’s rougher outings as a Buck finishing 6/15 for 12 points, though he did pull down 10 boards. It was just an off night for him, as evidenced by a couple of uncharacteristically missed layups. He did throw down this insane dunk, though: