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Milwaukee vs. Los Angeles: Bucks Become Part of History

The Robert Covington Game

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off two hard-fought victories over Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, you just knew the Milwaukee faithful were raring for a chance to congratulate the good guys in their return to the Fiserv Forum last night against the Los Angeles Clippers. And boy did the Bucks put on a show (of some sort). So much so that all those in attendance and watching at home got to witness history:

That’s just special. Truly, on any given night in today’s NBA you might see something that’s never been done before.

The Bucks lost 153-119.

Given the final score, you’d have guessed the Bucks got lit on fire from the jump, but that wasn’t actually the case. With a starting lineup of Jevon Carter, Pat Connaughton, Jordan Nwora, Bobby Portis, and Serge Ibaka, the Bucks actually jumped out to a small lead to begin the game. The Clippers, fresh off a Thursday night game against the Chicago Bulls, answered with their own B Team lineup of Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Amir Coffey, Robert Covington, and Ivica Zubac.

Portis, who had been struggling offensively the past few weeks, looked to be closer to his previous groove going 5-8 from the floor for 10 points in the frame. Robert Covington, generally a stingy defender, wasn’t able to plant his feet all that well to prevent Bobby from initiating contact, getting a little space on the elbow, and putting up a jumper.

However, the size of LA’s Ivica Zubac (and, to an extent, Isaiah Hartenstein) would pose problems for Milwaukee’s depleted big man rotation. Serge Ibaka picked up two loose ball fouls in like three minutes doing his level best to keep Zubac off the glass or disrupting P&Rs, which meant Sandro Mamukelashvili minutes, which meant Sandro trying to guard a guy like four inches taller than him. Almost immediately, the Clippers started spamming pick & rolls with Hartenstein and Terance Mann, and Mamu/Pat Connaughton were quite unable to slow it down. LA would take the lead off a Mann and-one with 1:56 left in the quarter. Bucks were down 34-30 after one.

Old friend Rodney Hood got immediate revenge to start the second hitting his first shot attempt, a nice move on the wing into a jumper before glancing at the Bucks bench. Bobby continued to hit jumpers, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo got himself involved in his typically big way, emphatically swatting a Luke Kennard layup attempt before screaming, flexing, and vigorously nodding his head to his personal beat. Milwaukee was down 49-46 with 7:58 left. Following this, the Bucks actually had a number of nice offensive sequences with Jevon Carter in the lead; his footwork and dribbling on the perimeter was skillful enough to create space, and he made a couple nice shots and passes off the opportunities. The teams would trade the lead back and forth, Carter got it down to 60-67, Clippers, with a nice fast break layup, and Bobby earned a technical foul knocking Mann over. Bucks down 73-62 at the half.

The third is when that historic Covington streak really got going. He would make five of his six three-point attempts in those minutes, leading the Clippers with 17 of their 41 points in the third. LA really couldn’t miss from almost anywhere, getting nice layups, a thunderous dunk, and most of their threes were mostly open, generated off mediocre execution from Milwaukee’s B Team defense and the occasional inspired pass. Halfway through the quarter the Bucks had scored like a total of 10 points, and Mike Budenholzer picked up a technical foul arguing against a Luke Kennard push-off. Serge made a high arcing three, but besides a couple Carter baskets made via his own creativity, it was a long comedy of errors for the Bucks: Turnovers, seven players standing in the paint, Jordan Nwora uncalled for dribble moves. This one had it all.

Really, the entire second half was like watching the Clippers morph into the Harlem Globetrotters. Besides the white hot three point shooting, Milwaukee’s undersized lineups (which often had George Hill trying to cover much bigger guys in switches) gave LA plenty of opportunities to throw lobs or create an open floor look off generous passing. I’ve long maintained that if you’re going to get beat down, at least hope the other team puts on a show, and the Clippers did just that. Robert Covington would go 4-7 from three in the fourth, and at a certain point, up like 30+ points, it was clear LA was just letting Covington gun as much as he could handle to see how many threes he could make.

If you were watching this one this late, that’s true fandom. This is about as boat race-y a boat race gets in basketball.

Three Things

The Bucks B Team is worse than its A Team. I’m, of course, being trite, but between two teams trotting out their bench guys all game, the Clippers were far better at executing on both ends. To be fair to them, through the first quarter the Bucks starting lineup held their own for the most part, but as the game wore on it was obvious they were both too small and too slow/old to keep up an intense defensive pace all game long. They didn't exactly give Budenholzer & Co. much to take from this one, at least.

Thank goodness Brook Lopez is back. Los Angeles is unique in that they were able to trot out a pair of true seven-footers all game long in Zubac and Hartenstein, and this was a substitutes game, but the sheer difference in size and length between those guys and Bobby Portis/Serge Ibaka/Sandro Mamukelashvili was obvious all game long. Whether it be struggling with the simple act of contesting Zubac’s positioning, switching and making Jevon Carter guard a guy literally a foot taller than him, or doing anything resembling a competent zone-drop scheme, these Bucks had a tough time doing it. We’ll not run into a lot of playoff teams with physically huge guys like that, but when we do, I’m glad Brook will be there to help out.

Jevon Carter vs. George Hill is the most interesting substitute battle. Jevon Carter got the start in this one, shot 8-10 from the floor for 18 points, had 8 assists, and 1 turnover. In his 16 games with Milwaukee, his shooting splits are at .585(!)/.611(!!!!!)/1.000. What he loses in physical size to Hill, he’s made up with literally insane shooting, a crazy motor on both ends, and critically not sticking out like a sore thumb. Mike Budenholzer might view Hill as the more reliable guy for high-leverage playoff minutes, but Carter has been so good since coming to Milwaukee that it makes you wonder if he has a real shot at cracking a playoff rotation.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • I’ve never done this section before, or if I have it’s been a long time. Can I just put random stuff down here? If yes, there were multiple times a Buck made a three, the Bally Sports broadcast would jump to a shot of the crowd, and people would be holding up all five fingers with one arm in the air. Did they think a three was worth five points? I’ll be exploring this in depth in the future.
  • At least we got this special moment after the Bucks/fans paid tribute to Giannis becoming the franchise all-time leading scorer:
  • Brew Hoop alumnus Eric Nehm got got by the reverse eating cam:
  • Robert Covington has serious future Buck potential. Not only did he get encouragement from Giannis to keep gunning for as many three-pointers as he could make, but Covington also sympathized with Mike Budenholzer’s complaints about the Clippers getting some favorable calls:
  • Is there a simmering beef between Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis? Watch the evidence and decide for yourself:
  • Substitute color commenter Stephen Bardo revealed his top-5 all-time Buck list for some reason, and he had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Giannis, Marques Johnson, and... Brian Winters. OK. Sidney Moncrief will be in touch.

The Bucks are back at it tomorrow at home against the Dallas Mavericks.

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