With the month of February coming to a merciful end, the Milwaukee Bucks are at the end of the third quarter of their season. With 20 games left in an 82-game campaign, the Bucks have very, very little time to sort themselves out before the playoffs start, and the first opponent they can start that process with is the always-plucky Charlotte Hornets.
Where We’re At
Have you ever seen the movie ‘The Naked Gun?’ I haven’t, but you may have, and if so you might appreciate this reference as it applies to the Bucks and their third quarter performance.
Summary: it’s bad, and depending on who you ask, it’s no big deal.
Bobby Portis seems to think it’s a big deal. The Athletic’s Eric Nehm got a chance to talk to him about it after the Nets outlasted the Bucks on Saturday, and Portis was his usual candid self.
“To be honest, man, shit, they just kicked our butt in the third quarter,” Bucks forward Bobby Portis (30 points, 12 rebounds) said. “They scored 43 points. I mean we scored enough just to keep it close, but I mean that’s been our kryptonite the whole year. I’m kind of just tired of talking about it, bro. I don’t know what we can do, what we’re going to do. … we’ve been talking about this since December, man, and in a couple of days, it’s gonna be March, so we gotta figure that out, and soon, man. The season’s about to be over.”
Portis has been vocal about the Bucks’ third-quarter struggles longer than anyone else in the organization. He called the Bucks’ third quarters “trash” at the start of January, but that hasn’t done anything as the Bucks continue to perform poorly in the third quarter. As covered here at The Athletic at the start of February, the Bucks have been the league’s worst defensive team in the third quarter this season, but so often, the Bucks have come out of the locker room with a level of carelessness unbefitting of a championship roster.
Milwaukee is playing like a team that can simply “flip the switch” when they want to, and they will flip that switch precisely when they want to, and not a moment sooner. Moreover, there is a certain type of season-long identity crisis the Bucks are going through, having played without Brook Lopez since October and his return date still to-be-determined. It’s as if the team has adopted an attitude of “We’ll be fine, once Brook gets back,” which might be true...but the Bucks are running out of time to even test that hypothesis. In the meantime, that results in some pretty frustrating basketball from the defending champions. Tonight, they’ll be without Lopez (obviously), as well as Pat Connaughton and George Hill.
While the Bucks might be trying to convince everyone (including themselves) that they have nothing to prove, the Hornets absolutely have something to prove. The NBA League Pass darlings have gone through as rough a stretch as a team can endure lately, posting a 2-10 record since the start of February. They had their eyes set on a top-4 seed this season, but inconsistency on defense and the lengthy absence of Gordon Hayward has hamstrung this plucky squad. Coming off a loss to Detroit, both Miles Bridges and Terry Rozier implied that the team’s recent struggles are due to our old friends Energy & Effort. From At The Hive:
Miles Bridges also chipped in postgame, giving credit to the Pistons for playing hard. In his eyes, Charlotte just wasn’t able to match Detroit’s intensity.
“They just played harder than us. They deserved to win that game, they played harder than us. We didn’t turn it on until the fourth quarter, late third. They played hard the whole game so they deserved to win that.”
Charlotte got out-rebounded 54-46, and the Pistons pulled down a whopping 22 offensive boards - 10 more than the Hornets. Detroit was constantly fighting down low for second-chance opportunities, and because of it, they ended up attempting 21 more shots than the Hornets did (110-89).
Terry Rozier echoed Bridges’ sentiments, saying that the Hornets just failed to make the effort plays toward the end. In a game as close as this one way, hustle is everything, and Charlotte simply did not bring it.
“We ain’t got no choice but to move on. There’s a lot of things we could have done different. But it all came down to effort plays. They beat us on the effort plays at the end.”
Player To Watch
We talk about Giannis Antetokounmpo plenty, but we probably still don’t talk about him enough. Now in his 9th NBA season, Giannis is at the (steadily rising) peak of his powers, posting per-game averages of 29.4 points (on 0.544/0.304/0.722 shooting splits), 11.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.4 blocks. He has evolved his game to rely less on getting to the rim; this season, only 38.0% of Giannis’ shots are happening within 3 feet of the hoop, a full 10 points below his career average of 48.3% and the first time he’s ever been below 40%. He’s taking (and making) more midrange shots than ever before, which coupled with his advanced passing and playmaking create a wall-defying destroyer of basketball-worlds in the postseason. It’s a good thing his shoulders are so broad, because the Bucks’ hopes of repeating rest squarely atop them.
Game 62: Against Charlotte, the Bucks will...
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