How would you describe a regular-season loss to the league’s worst team matter as the playoffs approach and the Bucks are seemingly trying to gain a higher seed? How would you describe that loss if it results in Giannis Antetokounmpo spraining the same ankle he rolled ten days ago against Phoenix AND was already “dinged up” after Tuesday’s game? If you ask me, an unmitigated disaster.
As we await an update on Giannis’ health, Milwaukee is staring down the barrel of their star being injured enough to drastically affect this season’s outcome. I have my druthers about whether or not he’ll be fully healthy at any point from here on out. Hindsight is 20/20, but many questioned the need to play him last night at all even before tip. Now, the Bucks are walking on eggshells, potentially one more ankle tweak away from something much more serious than a sprain.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last week: A)
The man was everything the Bucks needed in two close games, and his efforts in both upstaged his already splendid performance against Philly. He bounced back from going 5/10 at the line on Saturday to make 13 of his next 15 to go with 4/10 from deep this week. Houston destroyed them on the glass last night—they really could have used a guy who has averaged 11.4 rebounds since returning from his knee injury. That being said, he doesn’t need to do any of this again until the postseason, and Milwaukee should not mess around anymore with his lower body ailments.
Jrue Holiday: B+ (last week: A-)
Though he took an efficiency hit against Charlotte, Holiday still pulled down 10 rebounds to go with double-digit assist totals in each loss. His three-point accuracy has dipped in the last week amid some inconsistent offensive performances, but the defense was still largely there, even if he had some trouble with the younger Rockets. A personal 14-5 run in the early fourth singlehandedly reclaimed the lead last night. If Giannis misses significant time in the coming weeks, Holiday is going to have to be the guy.
Khris Middleton: B (last week: A-)
I just don’t know if Middleton has it this year, even if his stats look good overall. Some commenters here even think he’s overworked and tired amid this condensed, demanding schedule. While it came in a blowout win, 0/6 in 20 minutes against a Sixers team without Simmons and Embiid is worrisome. He was more than solid in the following 3 games, but unlike last season, it’s anyone’s guess what the Bucks will get from Middleton each night.
Brook Lopez: B (last week: A-)
Lopez thrashed the Hornets’ undersized frontcourt and did lots of damage inside 10(-ish) feet all week, slowly maneuvering through the lane and dipping into his arsenal of push shots, which almost always fall thanks to his soft touch. Like every Buck, he couldn’t do much to stop Houston’s fourth-quarter attack on Thursday, though he seemed particularly susceptible to getting burned. Not a good matchup, but the Bucks simply had to rely on him once Giannis exited, lest they risk further defensive mishaps by playing Bobby Portis.
Donte DiVincenzo: C+ (last week: C)
He reappeared on Saturday to knock down 3 of 5 behind the arc, but that remains his only double-digit scoring effort in the past 3 weeks. In the next three games he was roundly outplayed by Bogdan Bogdanovic (ugh), Devonte’ Graham, and Kevin Porter Jr. This has been a rough month for DiVincenzo on both ends, and since he apparently is having ankle issues too, it’s probably high time he gets some more nights off. Given his injuries as a rookie, then the 4+ month stoppage last year, this is his first full and uninterrupted season. He may be hitting some kind of wall, exacerbated by the packed schedule.
Bobby Portis: B (last week: A-)
A bit disappointing that Portis didn’t even attempt a 3 in Houston (though he ended up with 4 steals!) because he had a solid offensive week, going 5/5 on Saturday. He maybe should have gotten more run than 13 minutes in Charlotte with their small frontline, not to mention Giannis’ ankle issues started that evening. He was a defensive liability last night— never really a surprise—but to see him be outplayed by D.J. Wilson stings.
P.J. Tucker: A- (last week: A-)
He had an off night defensively facing his old team, but Pops Jr. is firmly ensconced as one of the team’s best stoppers, now fully healthy and getting his most significant minutes since joining the Bucks. The corner three is now starting to fall too: he was 4/8 on those this week. Like many are clamoring for, he probably needs to see more second half minutes given the team’s issues holding onto leads.
Bryn Forbes: A- (last week: B+)
Clearly frustrated after his donut in Atlanta (0/5, 0 points), Forbes returned to form in a big way the next two games by canning 9 of his 16 three-point attempts and notching a career-high 30 in Houston. Both games would have been vastly different without his microwave scoring. Note that he was 8/11 inside the arc in those games too, flashing three-level ability.
Pat Connaughton: C (last week: B+)
This has been one of Connaughton’s least impactful stretches of the year. He was solid on Saturday, but he’s made just 4 of his last 17 triples and couldn’t make up for it by contributing on the boards, as he often does. His minutes are down accordingly; when his shot isn’t falling, Bryn Forbes is usually the better option. This version of Connaughton looks like the ineffective one we saw in the Bucks’ two most recent playoff series losses, and that’s not someone who should see lots of PT when the postseason begins in a couple of weeks.
Jeff Teague: C (last week: B)
Teague received a DNP-CD in Charlotte and really didn’t do much this week in reduced minutes, outside of 8 assists on Saturday. Given DiVincenzo’s toe and ankle ailments, plus his general difficulty running the second unit offense, maybe Teague should actually see a little more action. His minutes lately are indicative of being the 10th man in the rotation.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: B (last week: INC)
Thanasis saw 18 minutes this week so he gets a grade. Not all of those came in garbage time on Saturday either, as lately he’s been entering games for defense (I guess?) in the closing seconds of quarters. It was irrelevant except for what happened as the first quarter ended in the Philly game. Thanasis entered and immediately drew a charge from Shake Milton before the ball was even inbounded. No time came off the clock; that’s what I call efficiency. It also makes up for the 4 personals he racked up in the game’s last 6 minutes.
Mike Budenholzer: C (last week: B-)
On Thursday night, it wasn’t a frigid offensive stretch that cost the Bucks a W as it did in Atlanta, and in several other recent late-game chokes. Bud held steadfastly to switching in that one but did mix in some zone. Neither were effective as Houston just couldn’t miss, but the traditional zone drop may have fared worse. I don’t know what he could have done to adjust since Kevin Porter Jr. was draining well-contested threes as he channeled Damian Lillard, but let’s make one thing clear: even without Giannis, there is no excuse for losing to the league’s worst team, especially by giving up 143 points. Plus, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Lou Williams were doing the very same thing to Milwaukee earlier in the week as Atlanta put up 41 fourth-quarter points, while the offense again went cold. Devonte’ Graham tried his best to be that guy for Charlotte as well. I suggested last week that Bud improve late-game playcalling to avoid these droughts and while that remains true, something has to be done to keep the ball out of these players’ hands as they go off late. The Atlanta guards found easier looks off screens that the Bucks went too far under or just didn’t switch well enough.
Also, how much blame should Bud get for playing an already banged-up Giannis on Thursday night? I don’t know what the power dynamics between the Bucks’ training staff and their head coach are, but you’d think Bud had the final say.
Incomplete: Jordan Nwora (9 minutes), Mamadi Diakite (7), Sam Merrill (6), Rodions Kurucs (4), Axel Toupane (DNP), Justin Jackson (DNP)
Milwaukee has just over two weeks left until the playoffs and is facing significant injury concerns. Two bad losses killed the good vibes and potential seeding benefits of sweeping Philly. Now three games back, these two Brooklyn matchups ahead look bleak, not to mention the red-hot Wizards on Wednesday. The Bucks truly had a chance at the two seed that all but evaporated by blowing two leads this week after halftime. Regardless of whether or not Giannis is playing, late-game execution has to be addressed if the Bucks are to have any postseason success. What are your grades? Let us know in the comments below.