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Milwaukee vs. Houston: Bucks Blast Off

Giannis goes for 44 while barely playing half the game

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Houston Rockets v Milwaukee Bucks

After a slog on opening night in Philly, what better way to perk up a sluggish offensive start than a visit from the Houston Rockets? It’s just what the Bucks needed for their home opener, cruising to a 125-105 wire-to-wire victory. Naturally, if offense was what Milwaukee needed, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to provide, awing the Fiserv Forum crowd with a sensational 44 points on 17/21 shooting, needing just under 28 minutes to get there. Second-year guard Jalen Jalen Green led Houston with 22.

Giannis, Brook Lopez, and Jrue Holiday started this game with a combined 10/10 from the field and 29 points, including 5/5 from three. It wasn’t until after the three-minute mark that another Buck scored. Milwaukee scored 13 unanswered points after tip, later reestablishing that lead and then some to claim a 41-23 advantage as the first quarter wrapped.

Milwaukee’s edge swelled to 24 in the second thanks largely to continued hot outside shooting. A mid-quarter featurette from Green brought Houston back within 15 before a Bucks timeout, also blameable on some sloppy ballhandling and passing by the more seasoned team. Turnover-itis continued to afflict the Bucks (5 in the period), but they grew their lead back up to 19 thanks to some late-quarter Giannis buckets, leading 67-48 after one half. The Greek Freak led all scorers with 20 on 8/9 shooting, with Holiday not far behind at 15.

Houston came out of the locker room firing from deep to cut the lead to 12, with Milwaukee giving opposing shooters a healthy bit of space. To start rebuilding the lead, the Bucks opted to force-feed Giannis some post-looks, getting him to 30 in under 5 minutes of game time. Still, the Rockets kept dialing it in from distance as the Bucks stuck to drop coverage with Lopez on the floor, but for good reason: Lopez swatted away 5 shots inside to this point in the game. Giannis made it to 38 by the third’s conclusion, only to be waived off by a questionable offensive foul call underneath. Milwaukee’s 19-point edge reemerged by the third’s horn, and they were up 98-79 entering the final period.

Chick-fil-A locations around the Milwaukee metro went on notice as Giannis quickly set after a 50-piece. He quickly scored 6 points before taking a seat, though Bud stuck with his rotation guys several minutes longer as the Bucks’ edge dropped from as high as 27 to 14. With 3:47 remaining and his team down 18, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas called a timeout and subbed in his deep bench. It was then that Bud summoned Mamu, Thanasis, plus AJ Green and... wait for it... MarJon Beauchamp for their NBA debuts. The former received a nice hand from the exiting crowd before driving into the lane and past 7’4” behemoth Boban Marjanovic for a layup and his first NBA points. He later flashed a nifty crossover to help the Bucks cap off a 125-105 victory and send the sellout crowd home happy with a 2-0 start.

Three Bucks

Giannis is a man and the Rockets are boys. While they’re plenty young, the Rockets have some pretty gangly paint protectors (if you can call them that), but they lack the discipline and strength to deal effectively with Giannis. Three defenders? No sweat. The Greek Freak buried a whopping 14 of 16 attempts inside, but while he could feast easily down low, he even drained his first two three-point attempts and swished a pull-up from the nail. After the game, I asked what it was about Houston that permitted such effectiveness. Ever humble, Giannis was quick to credit his teammates for identifying how he could dominate tonight:

Brook Lopez stuffed the stat sheet. Giannis wasn’t the only Buck to impose his will beneath the rim, even if he did his scoring (all but one of his 7 shots came from downtown, where he was 3/6) elsewhere. Lopez blocked five Rockets field goal attempts, including a particularly embarrassing one for Kevin Porter Jr.:

Jrue Holiday shook off his abysmal season opener. From the jump, Holiday hunted his shot inside and out on the way to 12 first-quarter points on 5 of 6 shooting. Though he only scored 7 the rest of the way on 9 shots, he found Giannis frequently down low to contribute 10 dimes.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Rockets’ rookie Jabari Smith had his welcome-to-the-league moment early after Giannis baptized him with two fouls (including one of the clear-path variety) in barely the first two minutes of action. Good luck, kid!
  • As if this Houston squad wasn’t young enough, they started two other juniors alongside Smith (Jr.): Kevin Porter Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr., the former not being the son of former Wizards PG Kevin Porter. When you have that many sons, you’re just begging to get sonned.
  • The Bucks kept the same starting lineup from the season opener and rolled ten deep, with George Hill the first substitute upon two early Grayson Allen fouls.
  • After holding Philly to just 24 three-point attempts in the season opener, the Rockets got off 37 such looks last night (hitting 16 of them). That’s an inoffensive number relative to years past, but it hints that the Bucks might change up their scheme nightly based on the opponent’s makeup. Lopez’s minute load was similar in both games, but Bud opted for more drop coverage, daring Houston’s young shooters to put up above-the-break shots. They mostly succeeded, but Milwaukee matched Houston’s makes (16) and was so stifling inside the arc to gain a decisive math advantage.
  • This was the first time I’ve seen Jalen Green, and now I get what the hype is all about. In the second, he briefly took over with a high-flying dunk and three deep treys, flashing a nice stepback. If you can cross up Jrue Holiday and hit the three after, I guess you have a future in this league. Though his outside shot looked good (x/x), he still needs to work on his efficiency, going a putrid 2/12 inside the arc.
  • Though the Rockets often had little recourse but to put him there, Giannis struggled at the charity stripe initially, missing 5 of his next 7 shots after sinking the first two. However! He nailed his next four attempts to finish 8/13, surpassing Sidney Moncrief along the way to become the Bucks’ all-time leader in made free throws.
  • Houston has some pretty long—if not bulky—talent on their roster, but Milwaukee’s front line had little trouble preventing them from cashing in at the rim, notching 8 blocks in the first half alone. Three of those came from Lopez, with another pair each from Ibaka and Holiday.
  • Jordan Nwora was mediocre after a solid opener on Thursday, hitting 3 of his 5 shots—including a nice elbow stepback—but his three turnovers negated that somewhat. When the Rockets tried to claw their way back into the game in the second, it was largely because of Nwora’s careless passing and ballhandling. He’ll continue to get chances, though, and so far this year he hasn’t been a net negative.
  • Brandon Jennings was courtside! He tried his best Bakhtiari, but didn’t give himself much of a chance. Pro-tip for the (forever) Young Buck: buy two next time if you plan to be on the jumbotron.
  • Milwaukee has three full days off at home ahead before they welcome Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, and the rest of that enigmatic Brooklyn squad in on Wednesday. The Nets are 1-1 after an opening-night annihilation at the hands of the Pelicans and a squeaker against the Raptors but have the Grizzlies to face between now and Wednesday.

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