The Milwaukee Bucks got off to a great start in their first game of their current road trip. The New Orleans Pelicans put up a fight but fell to Milwaukee 128-119, and the Bucks head up to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers on Wednesday.
Milwaukee opened the game with some cold shooting and sloppy passing, but New Orleans had nothing going in the first quarter besides Jonas Valanciunas’s scoring. Seriously, JV made six shots and the rest of the team had only four, combined. That was the story of the night for New Orleans, as Valanciunas went off for 37 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 assists... including hitting seven three point shots (more on that later). But the story for the Bucks was that both of their starting bigs were productive. Brook Lopez continues smashing through even the loftiest expectations with his performance this season, logging 30 points (including 4-for-9 from deep) and 7 rebounds. And Giannis? What did Giannis Antetokounmpo do? Well...
if you were curious how #1 in East vs. #2 in West is going right now pic.twitter.com/FetncmgXDm— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) December 20, 2022
Giannis is a MonStar who soaks nightly in a bath of Michael’s Secret Stuff. Giannis is your favorite player’s favorite player’s secret superhero. Giannis is, in a word, him. The Greek Freak posted 42 points and 10 rebounds, including a tidy 17-for-22 from the foul line. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, so know that I recognize the repetitiveness but it still demands saying: we do not properly appreciate Giannis Antetokounmpo and his basketball exploits.
The return of Joe Ingles. Bucks fans had been waiting for this day for months, and while nobody doubts how well he would fit inside the locker room, there were concerns about how well he would fit on the court. Ingles took the floor in the final minute of the first quarter, and came out after the first minute of the second; it’s no secret that the team won’t rely on him for major minutes, but they need him to have an impact in the time he does play. He ended up with 15 minutes played tonight, missing all four of his shots while committing two fouls and three turnovers. It’s clear that he’ll need some time to get into the swing of things, but he did show off his passing with a nifty lob to Giannis, so there’s no reason to write off old Joe just yet. He’s just happy to be out there with the guys.
The return of...the old defense? Plenty of people were #MadOnline about the shots Milwaukee was conceding this evening. Brook Lopez was dropping way back, as is customary, but Milwaukee’s help defenders were also shifting inwards to clog up lanes that would otherwise be filled by Zion Williamson, leaving the perimeter wide open.
The result? Well, on the one hand, we had “The Jonas Valanciunas Game” tonight, as the burly center made 7 out of 10 threes. Simultaneously, pull-up artist CJ McCollum dropped 31 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds while making 6 out of his 10 three pointers, many of which were open when the Milwaukee defenders opted to either go under a screen, or the help defense didn’t step up out of the lane to take away the look.
On the other hand, Zion Williamson had only 18 points on 14 shots and got called for a technical foul in the third quarter that was a direct result of Milwaukee’s relentless defensive effort against him. Oh, and the Bucks won the game, because every so often it’s worth selling out to protect the paint, even if it opens you up from outside. The real trick is knowing when to help off your cover rather than stay home...and it’s up to Mike Budenholzer to show that he has those cards up his sleeve come playoff time.
The return of Clutch Jrue. With Khris Middleton out of action tonight – and not yet fully online this season – Jrue Holiday assumes the role of “Bucks’ best perimeter scorer.” And once again, though you would think that the defensive effort and constant travel would make difficult shots nigh unmakeable, Jrue comes through when the game gets tight. Again.
Holiday finished with his customary 18 points and added 11 assists, but that late-game step-back jump shot continues to fall when the Bucks need it most. An uncanny skill that we can only hope we can enjoy in moderation going forward.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The aforementioned Valanciunas opened the game’s scoring by flinging in a pair of three pointers. That he was open for those shots isn’t notable, but that his shooting motion actually resulted in makes sure is. Just a funky-looking shot.
- On defense, Zion Williamson came up with two steals on Milwaukee’s first two possessions of the game, both on attempted entry passes to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not an ideal start, and an example of the Bucks’ playmaking woes without everyone at full strength.
Jose Alvarado just flopped on a Jrue Holiday post-up and Holiday signaled for him to get up on the way back down the floor.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) December 20, 2022
- Rookie MarJon Beauchamp earned the start this evening, taking Khris Middleton’s spot at forward. When he got open looks, he launched his shots quickly but comfortably, and always seemed around the ball on defense during his minutes. Beauchamp only mustered 16 minutes of playing time, but went 2-for-4 from deep and generally having an idea of what’s going on. For a talented rookie, that’s a compliment!
- Milwaukee played this one in their blue alternates, which stood out even on another team’s court. I’m still on Team Purple Jersey myself, but these blue ones have grown on me.
- Adam already mentioned this in the Rapid Recap, but the Pelicans defense had nothing for the Bucks in the paint; Milwaukee scored 23 baskets on 25 shots at the rim over the course of the game. My math tells me that comes out to 92% shooting, without counting any fouls that were called on attempts that weren’t also an and-one.
- Ninety-two percent at the rim!
- Pat Connaughton drove across the lane in the first quarter, lifting the ball above his head as if to take a running hook shot. The defender stepped up and left Brook Lopez open underneath the basket, and Connaughton flicked a nifty pass for an alley-oop. It was a fun sequence that was easily missed in a road game (due to the lack of crowd reaction), but Connaughton’s heady play as a reserve wing is a crucial part of this team’s success.
- In the second quarter, Jevon Carter came up with a clean rearview block on a CJ McCollum pull-up midrange jumper, further demonstrating the havoc he wreaks as a perimeter defender. His activity and ability to move around screens is an element of the Bucks’ defensive success that can’t be ignored, considering how much they’ve worked to avoid over-helping off the line while still shutting down the rim.
- At one point late in the game, Wes Matthews picked up three fouls...all while guarding Zion.