Milwaukee opened this game on an absolute heater, hitting 8/14 from beyond the arc, but they led merely 33-25 after one. That stroke of luck went sideways in a hurry in the second, as the Mavericks found their way back into the game and led 57-55 at halftime. The Bucks needed to make up some ground as they entered the fourth quarter, with the Mavericks wiping out a brief Milwaukee lead to head into the final period up 90-87. Khris Middleton entered the fourth quarter with just seven points and his poor shooting continued, with lots of makeable Milwaukee shots just missing as they ultimately lost this one.
The Mavericks wound up shooting 15-17 from the rim and 16-38 (42.1%) from three.
The Mavericks were intent on showing Giannis two to three bodies. Almost every time upon the catch, the Dallas team would shade at least one other defender closer to Giannis’s primary defenders. Occasionally it would be a full-out trap if he was near the sideline, sometimes it would be three people crowding him, other times it was just throwing a hand within his passing lane to make him think. He was able to find his teammates several times with passes for triples, but they weren’t paying off. Even under the rim though when he was attacking, he just couldn’t quite find a way to finish plays with his usual accuracy. He ended with eight free throw attempts, although some of that was padded by end-of-game fouls. Giannis had 28 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.
Milwaukee’s interior defense couldn’t stop Luka’s playmaking. In the first half alone, Dallas went 9-11 at the rim against a frontline that primarily featured Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Doncic carved up the drop coverage by probing the interior, getting Lopez to commit and then finding a rolling Powell for an easy lay-in. Time and again the Mavs did this, while Giannis wasn’t able to get in there as a help defender well enough to deter them. I thought they actually had some better luck with their blitzing coverage, at least against that particular action, but once they went to it the Mavs also started nailing triples in the second period. In the second half, it wasn’t just his interior passing that was destroying Milwaukee, but his kickouts to the perimeter. Too many times the weakside defenders left their man in the corner, as Doncic threaded the needle to find an open shooter who knocked it down. Doncic finished with 32 points and 15 assists.
Khris Middleton didn’t have it today. It doesn’t need to be a referendum on him as a player, but repeatedly the Bucks went to him in the fourth quarter on matchups against Jalen Brunson, which are precisely the type of matchups the Bucks would want him taking advantage of in the postseason. The Mavericks did a solid job of shading more arms his way as he tried to break down Brunson, but all in all he just couldn’t find a way to get the ball to fall through the net. In another game, it’s entirely possible he torches Brunson and the Mavericks defense and ends up leading the team back. It doesn’t help the frustration he likely feels though in a game where he was the sole member of the Big Three who didn’t pull his usual weight. He had 11 points and nine assists on 3-14 shooting.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Bud started with Wes Matthews on the primary assignment against Luka Doncic.
- The Bucks started in drop coverage on Doncic, he got downhill for an and-one. The immediate next possession Brook Lopez came much higher up on the floor to meet him near the arc. It resulted in lots and lots of Dwight Powell dump-off finishes.
- It seemed like Bud also subbed out Holiday earlier in this game than normal for George Hill, allowing him to try and wub in for Wes Matthews to keep one of those two on Doncic as much as possible. Between the two, I definitely thought Holiday gave Doncic more fits.
- It was nice to see Brook Lopez not just trying out his finesse hook shots, but genuinely mashing his frame into the slighter body of Dwight Powell beneath the rim.
- If you’re looking for an example of Giannis improving as a passer when showed more pressure, late in the second period the Mavericks triple-teamed him and he easily diagnosed the dialed up D and pitched it to Connaughton for an easy shot above the arc that clanked off.
- I enjoyed when Pat Connaughton asked a kid sitting courtside to help him get up after Powell knocked him down on a corner triple attempt in the third.
- Jrue Holiday had his three-point stroke flowing in this one. His 5-8 performance included plenty of timely shots, and he was one of the reasons the Bucks kept it close as long as they did despite not shooting all that well overall.
- Bud went with the Giannis-Portis-Lopez frontline alongside Holiday and Pat partway through the third period. Perhaps my favorite defensive play of that lineup’s brief stint...a Lopez poke away from Doncic as he tried to navigate the pick-and-roll that led to Giannis’s first free throws of the game on the other end of the floor.
- Anytime Dallas threw Davis Bertans on the floor, the Bucks seemed to have a mandate from Coach Bud to attack him with any and all of their offensive actions.
- Bud went with a late lineup of Jrue-Khris-Wes-Connaughton-Giannis and had them switching every action. I thought it was a good counter to how they had been playing Doncic most of the day with hard hedges or drop, and I actually wouldn’t have minded seeing some switching earlier in the contest even if it meant Doncic might’ve gotten rolling as a scorer.
- The Mavericks got back to the point that Milwaukee couldn’t muster a single fast break point.