While it came in the waning days of a regular season everybody wants to end and has little remaining interest in, the Bucks picked up their 45th win in a pretty entertaining contest with the Pacers, 142-133.
Indiana only held a lead 33 for seconds total in their previous matchups with Milwaukee, but they’d shatter that tonight, not surrendering their initial lead for 7:46. Led by hot shooting from Jrue Holiday’s brother Justin (6/7 from deep in the first quarter), the Pacers led for a fair bit of the first half, but not by more than 9. Indy started a scorching 8/12 from distance.
Pacer reserves T.J. McConnell and Jakarr Sampson gave Milwaukee some trouble in the early second quarter, as Milwaukee’s defense continued to struggle with the white-hot Pacer shooters. It was a back and forth, mostly one-possession through halftime, and the Bucks clung to 3 point lead 69-66 going into the locker room. Indiana was 13/21 from downtown in the first half.
Giannis Antetokounmpo clearly took that first half personally, or maybe he’s just riding the wave of learning he’s having another child. Either way, leading the Bucks with 17 point at that point was simply not enough. He scored 11 in the quarter including a pair of ferocious throwdowns that could be felt up in Wisconsin. Milwaukee opened up the third with 10-0 run, and their lead would grow to as big as 19 while Indy cooled off (3/10 on threes). The Bucks led 109-96 heading into the final quarter.
Though Indy cut the lead to single digits for a bit in the early fourth, Milwaukee built that back up to 15 after long. Without any ability to stop him, the Pacers resorted to fouling Giannis. It didn’t really work. He lived at the line that quarter shooting 8/11 to preserve the lead and finished 11/16 on the evening. He also had one more rim-rattler, which may have been more powerful than his previous two combined. Still, Indy hung tough as they regained their three-point mojo (5/11 in the quarter) but couldn’t get it closer than 8 at any point, and Milwaukee largely coasted to the final buzzer.
Giannis annihilated Indiana to the tune of 40 points on 14/18 shooting, plus 15 rebounds, 6 assists, and a whopping 9 dunks—most notably in the second half. Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday all pitched in at least 20 points in support. Eight of the nine Pacers who played scored double-digits, led by 26 from Justin Holiday—who went just 2/5 from three after his insane first quarter—and 23 from T.J. McConnell, starting in place of oft-injured old friend Malcolm Brogdon.
What Did We Learn?
This is always difficult to accomplish, but last night the Bucks showed the ability to combat Indiana’s three point barrage with gobs of points in the paint. That was pretty common last year when Milwaukee was a mediocre perimeter shooting team—if not for lack of volume—but with their improvement this year (tied for second in the NBA with a 39.0% average) they’ve usually tried to outbomb the oopponent. Milwaukee took just 30 threes and hit 36.7%, well under season their season averages, while Indiana shot well above theirs with 43 attempts and a sizzling 48.8% conversion rate. The Bucks’ antidote was scoring 78 in the paint, with Giannis and Brook Lopez taking full advantage of the Pacers’ newly-soft, Myles Turner-less frontcourt.
Giannis came, he dunked, he conquered. Yes, Giannis has had plenty of big games this year so 40 isn’t sensational in context, but this is probably the most ruthless I’ve seen him attacking the basket. 9 dunks is exceptional, even for the second-highest dunker (trailing Rudy Gobert significantly) in the NBA. Those poor rims at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. As the game went on they seemed to get even fiercer.
Khris Middleton shook off a tough start—he missed his first four shots—to finish with a very solid 22 points on 9/17 shooting, also adding 6 dimes and 4 boards. He also had a clean drive to the hoop for a lay-in and shot 70% inside the arc. Lately, Middleton is picking up his scoring and showing some encouraging resilience when his shot doesn’t fall early in games.
Outdueled in the scoring department by his big brother, Jrue Holday was still great. Justin might rib him for going 0/4 from outside to his 8/12 and also outscoring him by 6, but the middle Holiday was absolute money in the restricted area (8/8) on the way to 20 points. Even better were his 14 assists: that tied the season-high he set the last time these two teams met. If only Aaron were playing...
Bonus Bucks Bits
- From the odd-and-unexpected department, the Bucks committed four goaltends in this game! Two came from Giannis—though one was dubious and could have withstood a coaching challenge—and the other two from Lopez on consecutive possession. Lopez could only laugh.
- After dropping 18 in the first, Justin Holiday scored only 8 the rest of the way, including just two in the second and third.
- The Bucks figured out Domatas Sabonis: he was a gross 5/19 from the field for 10 points, though he did chip in 14 assists. Since he dropped 33 on them in their first matchup, his scoring output dropped to this. Props to Lopez and Giannis.
- P.J. Tucker collided with Donte DiVincenzo in the fourth and appeared to be clutching his left oblique area as he winced. He did not return.
- T.J. McConnell was a thorn in Milwaukee’s side on both ends. Known for his defense, he grabbed 3 steals but also scored well—particularly at the rim, highlighted by two and-ones in the second quarter. He also played 45 minutes!
- Someone named Oshae Brissett had 19 points and was 5/8 behind the three-point line “¯\_(ツ)_/¯“
- Giannis spotted an old friend up in the mezzanine, hope you’re doing well down there Matt!
- After the Sixers lost in Miami, Milwaukee is just 2 games back of the number one seed, behind Brooklyn who is a game back. They hold tiebreakers over both teams. It’s not over yet, folks.