Winning pretty doesn’t count for any more in the left column than winning ugly, and I’ll keep that in mind while recapping the Milwaukee Bucks beating the Orlando Magic 109-102.
It was one of the grosser starts to an NBA game yet this year for Milwaukee, but they finally found a groove against this Magic team as the first quarter wore on, leading 30-21 after the initial period. The Bucks kept coasting for much of the second period, but sloppy turnovers and an ounce of shooting regression for the Magic put Milwaukee into half up 56-45. Orlando managed to break the Bucks down a few times in the early stages of the third, but timely threes and easy buckets kept Milwaukee up 88-72. Orlando cut the lead to six with just three minutes remaining, but a Sandro Mamukelashvili corner triple helped push the Bucks back ahead.
The Magic wouldn’t go away though, and it took some key Giannis buckets and hitting shots from the charity stripe down the stretch to salt this one away.
Giannis mopped up on Mo Wagner. As the one-time recipient of a Giannis headbutt, there is no love lost between Antetokounmpo and the elder Wagner brother. He sagged off Giannis the entire night defensively, daring him to shoot in the same way other opponents have of late. The jumper wasn’t working for Giannis, but he took full advantage of the additional runway to contort his body and bully through Wagner (while avoiding fouls) to pummel the Magic inside. He ended with 34 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Giannis recorded his 50th career game of at least 30/10/5/1/1.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 6, 2022
34 PTS | 13 REB | 5 AST | 2 BLK | 1 STL pic.twitter.com/clu5YvHaa4
Khris Middleton is back, but clearly still knocking off the rust. While his Lakers debut was mostly sterling, the final memories of that game partially entailed him mishandling a ball in the waning moments of the game. This Orlando game went more the way of that miscue than a make parade, as Khris couldn’t find his rhythm from deep all night and he looked lax with the ball, throwing off-target passes too. He was 1-11 from the field and looked generally jumbled.
One positive though: he can still grift with the best of them, getting a foul shot as he whipped around a screen and immediately went up for a shot, ensnaring Franz Wagner’s face into his elbow sending Khris to the charity stripe. That, on top of the full-court Khris-Giannis connection being back, means it’s hopefully just a matter of time before he starts consistently being the Khris we all know.
No Brook, a few problems. Bud finally gave Brook Lopez his first game off of the season, and it was no surprise to see Orlando find their way to the rim with regularity. Orlando is in the top-ten in terms of shots at the rim (36.5%) but the Bucks are top five, allowing just 30% of opponent shots at the rim. The Magic took 41% from that close range. And while they converted at just a 17-32 clip, it also led to their second worst game in terms of opponent free throw rate (28.3%). Cleaning The Glass had the Magic drawing 10 shooting fouls near the rim, a godsend for a team with shooting problems like Orlando. On a night like this, it was another reminder of just how valuable Brook can be to this team’s defensive strategy.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Bud opted to go with Jordan Nwora over Jevon Carter in the starting lineup for this one. I made this argument on our latest podcast episode, but I am in the camp of keeping Carter with the starters. I understand Bud may be trying to get another ball handler with the second unit, but I’m not sure he can find any offensive rhythm as easily off the bench as someone like Grayson or Nwora. Plus, he spells Holiday from having to always guard some of the opponent’s best ball handlers. In the second half, Carter was in for Nwora within two minutes. We’ll see how it all plays out.
- I haven’t really seen Bol Bol at all this year, so watching him deftly take a handoff into a perfect gather and finish past Jordan Nwora, at Bol’s frame, was pretty stunning. Good for Magic fans.
- My word was this team horrific for the first four minutes of this game. Travel calls, sloppy transition plays, sieve-like defense. Unsurprisingly, we got a disgusted Bud timeout after the Magic mustered yet another wide-open bucket beneath the rim. There was a noticeable uptick in the defensive intensity after what I’m sure was a pleasant chat on the bench.
- Credit to Jrue for having six turnovers in this game and only going 1-6 from deep, but still finding ways to contribute with 10 assists and a fairly uncharacteristic six attempts from the charity stripe for him. On a night Middleton was channeling Playoff Jrue offensively, this Holiday came through.
Near triple-double tonight for Jrue.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 6, 2022
17 PTS | 8 REB | 10 AST pic.twitter.com/vBn9xKJlmy
- Sandro Mamukelashvili got early minutes in this one (second man off the bench) and while he couldn’t find the the rhythm from deep, he did pass the most important test for Bucks role players: get the ball to Giannis in transition at all costs. Related: in his most meaningful minutes of the season, he did a decent job keeping the ball moving offensively and not being bowled over too often defensively. He hit a key three in the waning minutes to push the lead back to nine after Orlando cut it to six. With a line of eight points, six boards, two assists, a block and a steal, it was definitely his best game of the season.
Mamu knocks it down!! pic.twitter.com/cVrdHZ3JQz— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 6, 2022
- Giannis started 2-3 from deep tonight. I slowed down the footage to 1/16 speed and it looked like his hand rotation was about 1.2 clicks faster than...JK I have no clue why he managed to hit those, but it was a refreshing sight nonetheless!
- I thought the most important shot of the night for Giannis though, was in the second quarter, dribbling up into about 10 feet from the hoop. Orlando’s defense wasn’t quite set, he was on the edge of the lane and pulls up for a jumper when his defender sags off. That’s a shot he was taking and hitting at a pretty regular clip last year; I think he needs it to come back to maintain his postseason potency.
- Did you know Jevon Carter has four dunks in his NBA career? Four! Make it five after tonight; this was one sweet strip and score sequence as the Magic were starting to cut into the lead before half.
Hey, Mr. Carter. pic.twitter.com/zJ9eBjm2k9— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 6, 2022
- Second quarter AJ Green minutes...led to 2-2 from deep! Follow that up with a Giannis-Green DHO in the fourth that led to a deep two, later a clutch triple, then a heat check 3-point attempt off a screen! Wow. Just...wow. I kinda still can’t believe he’s on the roster, but frankly, the Bucks needed his points in this one.
New career-high for AJ with 12 points!! pic.twitter.com/B3O6dVIwV3— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 6, 2022
- Orlando’s zone defense effectively meant Milwaukee had to try and crack open driving lanes by hitting shots from the perimeter. With no Brook or even Grayson frankly, and with Orlando throwing basically all five defenders at Giannis at times when he would try to crack the paint, Milwaukee upped its 3-point frequency and lowered its rim frequency from season averages in this game.