After a lengthy absence from Fiserv Forum, the Milwaukee Bucks returned to Wisconsin and opened up a six-game home stand with a rematch of the recently-dispatched Portland Trail Blazers. Unfortunately, missing Giannis Antetokounmpo meant that the hometown heroes were stretched even thinner than usual, and the Blazers were able to waltz their way to a double-digit victory.
As a data point for the team’s postseason chances, or what areas require attention, this contest is almost useless. No Giannis (late scratch with ankle soreness), no Pat Connaughton (hand) or Brook Lopez (back) or George Hill (neck), no Giannis, the first game without Donte DiVincenzo (who produced 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 steals in a loss with the Kings) and the first game with Serge Ibaka (more on him in a bit), and did I mention no Giannis? It’s still a real game and it counts in the standings, but when it’s mid-February and you’re missing so many huge portions of the playoff rotation, sometimes you just have to accept the result as another bump in the road and head on over to the next opportunity.
We got our first good look at Serge Ibaka in his first game as a Buck. When the starting lineups were announced, Serge was listed as a forward (replacing Giannis) and Bobby Portis as the team’s center. Coming in from Los Angeles, there were a myriad of concerns about Ibaka, between his mobility, availability, and offensive fit. The good news, at least for one night, is that Ibaka can still move out there. In 31 minutes, Ibaka posted modest totals of 6 points and 7 rebounds, but he backed up his pre-game claims that he is 100%. While the result of this game conveys very little, Ibaka’s fit into a fully-actualized playoff rotation could, in theory, have a PJ Tucker-esque impact on the team. Perhaps not to the same degree, and certainly in different ways than Tucker contributed, but an impact nonetheless if Jon Horst proves to have made the right move. From Horst’s interview with The Athletic:
Last year, we did it in a 6-6, 6-7 P.J. Tucker package. Now this year we did it in a 6-10 Serge Ibaka package. I see this as a similar move to P.J., having a chance to have a similar impact. I don’t know that Serge will guard the ones and the twos the way that P.J. Tucker did, but I think Serge can guard the fours and the fives in a different way than what P.J. Tucker did.
Milwaukee’s lack of guard depth burned them badly tonight. It’s easy to look at the box score and note the productive outings of Portland’s Anfernee Simons (31 points, including 7-for-16 on threes) and newcomer Josh Hart (27 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, including 5-for-9 on threes). Those opponent outputs are indeed frustrating, but when you’re getting honest-to-goodness Lindell Wigginton minutes (17 of them, and he was a team-high +13 on the night!) alongside a nothing-burger from Wes Matthews (1 rebound and 1 steal in nearly 18 minutes), there’s only so much that can be expected. Ideally the buyout market adds a guard with a pulse (Goran Dragic, anyone?) and George Hill and Pat Connaughton will come back someday, hopefully someday soon. In fact, it should be sooner than we expected for Pat!
Pat Connaughton underwent successful surgery today to repair the fractured fourth metacarpal on his right hand.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) February 14, 2022
Connaughton is expected to be sidelined for approximately four weeks.https://t.co/Q9T3yKpP5k
Bad Khris game + Bad Jrue game - Giannis in the game = disaster. The American-born members of the Bucks’ Big Three each struggled to leave a positive mark on this game, though it’s a fair argument that Milwaukee’s poor depth put them at a significant disadvantage in the first place. In any case, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday each had struggles, and without reinforcement elsewhere on the roster those struggles sunk the Bucks’ chances. There was a distinct lack of discipline or execution on offense, and whichever one it was the result was the same (ugly).
Some of these Khris and Jrue passes are ??? even when they don't end up in the hands of a Blazer— Riley Feldmann (@RileyFeldmann) February 15, 2022
Khris Middleton nearly notched a triple-double (16 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists), but was 3-for-15 from the field (20.0%) and committed 4 turnovers. Jrue Holiday led Milwaukee in scoring (23 points and 6 assists), but his seven turnovers were over twice his per-game average and fueled Portland by gifting away possessions. Those combined 11 turnovers were huge, especially since the Bucks only committed 13 total turnovers as a team. Maybe if one or the other had a better outing, things would have worked out differently, but without Giannis’ transcendence around to smooth out all the wrinkles, the Bucks are more prone to losses like this one when both Middleton and Holiday have a tough night. If the basketball gods are willing, we won’t have to deal with that problem in the postseason.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Serge Ibaka actually scored the team’s first six points tonight. He got on the board with a hook shot, a wide-open dunk, and a pretty mid ranger, all in the first minutes of the first quarter. He did, however, fail to score a single point for the remainder of the game, confirming that Ibaka was not signed for his offense.
- If it wasn’t for the second quarter, Milwaukee would have won the game by a single point! The first, third, and fourth periods had splits of 31-30 (Blazers), 24-23 (Bucks), and 29-28 (Bucks again). But they did not win the second quarter, not by a long shot.
Budenholzer, on the Blazers' 40-point second quarter:— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 15, 2022
"It's the difference in the game, the second quarter. I feel like transition is where it starts, some layup baskets, some open 3s, some putbacks, just those kinds of baskets, that's really kind of unacceptable for us."
- Not to be forgotten, Jusuf Nurkic rounded out the Blazers’ productive evening with a 23 point, 14 rebounds outing. Nurk was repeatedly matched up against smaller Bucks defenders, which in this game applied to every single Bucks defender in-uniform.
- Jordan Nwora set his course for the summit and was met there by Justise Winslow. The result…wasn’t pretty for Nwora.
But let’s be real…that was a pretty play. What a block, and a clean one at that. Like, that block was dusted, sanded, wiped down, coated with a fresh layer of varnish, polished, and left to dry in a sterile environment, that’s how clean that block was.
- No surprise here, given how many players Milwaukee was missing, but Portland had their way on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 44-37.
- The defense switched a lot tonight, which is almost a given since Ibaka and Portis were the only actual bigs available tonight (no offense to Sandro Mamukelashvili, but his development is very much ongoing). Switching is, let’s say, best for the Bucks in small doses, based on what we’ve seen.
Related: watching the Bucks over the past week has reminded me why switching shouldn’t be more than a situational scheme for them. You’ve made your point, Bud. https://t.co/2qiKjqqwUc— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) February 15, 2022
- Despite similar number of attempts, Milwaukee lost the three-point accuracy category by double digits, 41.9% (18-of-43) to 31.7% (13-of-41). This was probably fueled by Portlands advantage in the assists column, as the Blazers logged 30 to the Bucks paltry 18.
- I’m glad I missed this during one of the stoppages in play. Y’all, I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but treat this like the Reverse Eating Cam and just…don’t.
In-Arena Valentine's Day Proposal Alert— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 15, 2022
No, I don’t know what the result of the proposal was, and no, I don’t intend on finding out. But congrats to the happy couple(s) I suppose!