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Milwaukee vs. Utah: Bucks Miss The A-Train, Win Anyway

Holiday and co. navigate the changes like prime Coltrane

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NBA: Utah Jazz at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

That’s more like it! Even as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton sat, the Bucks got back to their winning ways Saturday night at Fiserv Forum, dispatching the Jazz by a 123-97 final.

Brook Lopez blocked three shots in just over three minutes to start the action, and Bobby Portis scored 12 of the Bucks’ first 14 points. His 15 first-quarter points mark his highest output in a single period since joining the team. The Jazz kept pace with some hot three-point shooting, though, and the Bucks nursed a 27-22 advantage heading into the second.

Milwaukee extended that lead to 12 over the next four minutes, but Utah embarked on a 10-0 run to knot things up at 42. Not to be outdone, Jrue Holiday—who was scoreless to this point—concocted a personal 10-0 run of his own in just 90 seconds, pushing the lead back to double digits. The Bucks headed to the locker room up 56-47.

One of the league’s most prolific three point shooting teams, the Jazz’s—specifically Beasley’s— continued success from behind the arc kept them hanging around, and the Bucks couldn’t extend their league past 13. Lopez and Holiday kept them at arm’s length, though, maintaining their squad’s edge at 92-83 through three.

Spearheaded by the bench mob, an 8-0 run gave Milwaukee their largest lead to start the final frame, which swelled to as much as 32 as the quarter wore on and Utah went cold from downtown (0/12 in the fourth). From there it was academic, as the Bucks won the quarter by a 31-14 margin and beat the Jazz by 26.

The Bucks are now 21-8, percentage points behind the 22-8 Celtics for first in the East. They head back out on the road for a big matchup with one of the West’s best in New Orleans on Monday.

Three Bucks

Bobby Portis starred as Giannis’ understudy. As mentioned, Portis came out big to kick things off, playing nearly the entire first quarter. He then took a back seat to Lopez and Holiday until the fourth, and I wondered if his impact had concluded. I could sense a little frustration as he couldn’t find shots in the flow of the offense. Case in point: early in the second half, he committed offensive fouls on consecutive possessions. No worries, though, because he still ended up with an excellent 22 points and 14 boards on 9/16 shooting. That’s good for his 17th double-double on the year, tied for fourth in the NBA.

Marjon Beauchamp turned in some great work. Entering at the second quarter’s onset, he put in a great shift offensively by hitting a three, then dunking, and finally drawing a foul (he hit each free throw). Subbing back in with 11 seconds left in the third, he found Mamu for a triple before hitting one of his own a few minutes later. He drew another foul, again converting both attempts at the line, corralled a steal, and hit another two treys before the final buzzer. He finished with an excellent 18 off the bench on 5/9 shooting, going 4/7 from distance. He played the entire fourth, where he was a team-high +17.

Just in time for the holidays, Jrue is healthy. It took him a quarter, but Holiday really started to cook in the midsection of this one, scoring 18 of his 21 points in the second and third quarters. That helped fend off multiple Jazz advances before their shooting crumbled. His final line was essentially equal to Portis’: 21 on 9/16 shooting, 3/6 from three, and 8 assists. He seemed unaffected by the non-COVID illness that kept him out the last two contests.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Wesley Matthews was the first off the pine last night, followed by Sandro Mamukelashvili and George Hill at the next stoppage in play. Serge Ibaka also returned for his first action since November 21st.
  • Hill looked quite spry in his first half minutes, converting two drives to the basket, hitting a three, grabbing four boards (two offensive), and dropping a trio of dimes. He finished with 9/5/3, only missing one of his four shots.
  • Holiday took the initial assignment on Markkanen. He’s giving up a good nine inches to the big Finn, but he held his own in the initial possessions of each half. The resurgent Jazz forward finished with 18 on 7/13 from the field.
  • Mamu was quietly excellent with eight rebounds and flashing his preternatural (well, for a second-year big man at least) passing ability with six assists. He wound up a game-high +26, a good eight points clear of Grayson Allen in second, and the eye test validated it. The Bucks played well with him out there. His defense wasn’t up to the same level, but this performance was a nice endorsement of his NBA prospects.
  • Speaking of Allen, he continues to diversify his scoring. Of his nine attempts, seven came within 15 feet, including three layups, a floater, and a pullup. He’s hitting a career-high 73.3% of his shots within three feet, which make up 23% of his shot selection, also a career-high.
  • After a few milquetoast (at best) efforts over the last week or two, Lopez found a nice groove in the offense to the tune of 18 points on an 8/15 line. Though he didn't swat any more Jazz shots after his initial flurry, he remained a force on opposing drivers and on the glass (8 rebounds).
  • A night to forget for Jevon Carter offensively with a goose egg in 17 minutes, though he hauled in a few boards and made some good reads. Defensively he was a lot better, teaming with Allen to hold Utah’s guard duo of Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley to 17 combined points.
  • Pat Connaughton got just over 16 minutes in this one and hit two of his three attempts from outside. With how off he’s looked since returning, hopefully he’s starting to progress to the mean.
  • The swing in three-point shooting was really remarkable from quarter to quarter. Here’s how it went, with Utah’s percentage listed first: 42.9% to 12.5%, 36.4% to 41.7%, 60% to 71.4%, 0% to 63.6%. Early on, it looked like the Jazz might torch the Bucks—who couldn’t buy a make in the first—from deep with all the looks they generated, mostly due to a scorching Malik Beasley (6/10). However, it ended up 47.4% (18/38) to 34% (16/47) in favor of the home team.
  • Taylen Horton-Tucker subbed in for Utah in the fourth, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Lakers simps were telling us from way too early in his short career that he was some sort of future star, merely because he was the only young player LeBron’s Lakers had. Now? He’s mired on the bench in Utah after LA gave him a very ill-advised extension based on... what exactly? His second year at 9/2.8/2.6 on .458/.282/.775? Not only was he unceremoniously flipped for Patrick Beverly in August, he’s looking very chunky these days. The hot takes might have gone to his head... and his gut.
  • With 3:58 remaining, Bud called timeout milliseconds before Mamu lined up a wide-open three from the top of the arc. Naturally, Mamu drilled it, and immediately Bud said “my bad” as he walked onto the court, drawing some good-natured jeers from his bench.
  • Utah’s jerseys are a travesty. Dating back to the nineties, they’d found a solid color scheme centered around navy, with the Malone/Stockton era dalliance with purple intermixed. They wisely went back to their seminal basketball eighth note logo—one of the best in sports—plus reincorporated their classic green and yellow as accents during the Hayward/Mitchell/Gobert years. Now... this bland urine-yellow and white abomination. Unsurprisingly, they’ve already put out feelers with fans for a change.

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