Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to all of you. If you were off work, I hope you had a chance to serve your community in the spirit of the holiday and check out the Bucks’ 132-119 victory over the visiting Pacers, their highest offensive output in a regulation game this season. Though each team was without their leading scorers (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Tyrese Haliburton) due to injury, Jrue Holiday’s 35 points (21 in the second half) overcame a career-high 29 from T.J. McConnell (4 in the second half) and 30 from Myles Turner to flip a game they trailed by eleven at the half into a thirteen-point W.
Until the closing seconds of the first, this game was very even. George Hill returned to the floor for his first serious action since his illness, though coach Mike Budenholzer endeavored to keep pace with Indy’s young backcourt by going young at other spots with AJ Green and Jordan Nwora. A one-point Indy lead became six with the shot clock off thanks to T.J. McConnell and his buzzer-beating three, whose squad was up 38-32 after one.
That sequence created a 10-0 Pacers run into the second, where the lead grew to as much as thirteen as McConnell continued tormenting the Bucks’ defense. Even with good three-point shooting—Milwaukee was 13/29 in the first half, though tailed off as the second ended—Indy was hotter and could outrun the Bucks in both the half- and fullcourt. Myles Turner chipped in 17 in addition to McConnell’s ridiculous 25, staking Indiana to a 76-65 halftime edge.
It looked like the Bucks would make it a game initially in the third, slicing the deficit to six. However, the Pacers answered every Buck triple with their own going the other way and continued feasting off turnovers. However, a veteran-laden lineup featuring George Hill and Wesley Matthews helped their squad back into it with a combination of defense and cutting. An 9-2 run to close the frame had them within two until another Pacers buzzer-beater in the corner made it 98-93.
That momentum carried into the fourth’s onset, as the run extended to 16-7 over about six minutes of gameplay. Milwaukee took its first lead since the 3:15 mark of the first quarter on an Allen three and managed to grow it to as much as eight with 3:34 left. They closed the game on a 30-15 run and improve their record to 28-16.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Bucks as they host the Raptors for the second time in two weeks with a 6:30 tipoff tomorrow night at Fiserv Forum.
A Holiday in more ways than one. The Bucks guard is making a late All-Star push with his third consecutive double-double, dropping 11 assists alongside his season-high 35 and game-high +18. Most notable was his huge second half, particularly his shotmaking late in the third and through the fourth quarter. All while holding dynamic rookie Bennedict Mathurin to 12 points on just 3/8 shooting (welcome to the NBA kid, good luck when Holiday gets the assignment on you).
Veteran difference maker no. 1: George Hill. Outside of garbage time on the January 6th Hornets debacle, Hill hadn’t seen significant action since December 28th in Chicago as he dealt with an illness that reportedly cost him at least ten pounds. His impact also came primarily after halftime, with some key steals and cuts to the basket into holes the Pacers’ defense left open. In the press conference, Holiday remarked how easy Hill (and Wesley Matthews) made those drives look.
Veteran difference maker no. 2: Wesley Matthews. Entering at the 5:53 mark of the third, his entrance really felt like a turning point, reflected in the Bucks’ 42-29 finish after that juncture and McConnell’s fade. Bud described it as the bigger Matthews bringing “a little edge.” When asked how that affected the Bucks’ effectiveness on McConnell, Bud pointed to the team keeping him in front of defenders and out of the paint, but also how much they needed Matthews’ size and physicality. Though he only took one shot, it was a nice banker off the glass over Turner and he also flashed some nice passing. TMilwaukee’s head coach also lauded Hill and Matthews’ overall performance on both ends:
“He and George both... some cutting, some moving, getting inside the defense, kicking it out for threes... Wes is a smart player, and he did little things offensively and defensively, guarding the post... a lot of things that helped us close the gap.”
Bonus Bucks Bits
- T.J. McConnell started 9/9 for 25 points, setting a career-high in just 15 first-half minutes. That’s three consecutive games where backup point guards have lit up the Bucks. Given McConnell’s more defensive reputation, this seems like somewhat of an aberration. Unlike with Vincent, though, Bucks guards seemed to lose the Pacer a lot more often on screens by going under. Bud adjusted to a switch-heavy scheme in the second half to great effect: he sank only two of his last seven shots.
- Brook Lopez had a nice offensive game with 19 (3/6 from deep) but his rim protection is still trending a bit downward. 40 points in the paint from the Pacers isn’t massive by any means, but in the first half it seemed like his timing was a bit off in contesting smaller Pacers’ looks.
- Bobby Portis accrued another double-double—his 26th, tied with Julius Randle for third in the NBA and now one more than Giannis—and had important scoring stretches in the early stages of today’s game, but also a few costly turnovers. Two resulted in Pacers threes immediately after.
- For much of the game, it seemed like every trey the Bucks hit was answered right away by the Pacers to deflate their sails. This was particularly annoying as the Bucks stayed down 8–11 for most of the second and third quarters, though great shooting couldn’t break them free. Indiana did tail off a bit at the end at least, missing five of their final seven looks from downtown, allowing Milwaukee to pull away.
- In the second half, the Bucks’ bench received not one, but two delay of game technical fouls. One came when Andrew Nembhard collided with Bud while chasing an errant ball thrown in the coach’s vicinity, and he was not pleased with the call:
- The aforementioned switching helped the Bucks generate some more turnovers in the second half too, and while the Pacers had only one more than the Bucks’ five, the home team scored 13 off them to the visitors’ three. Milwaukee turned it over nine times in the first half, but the final tally was 16-14 in their favor.
- Another sneaky number that made a difference: the Bucks had 18 second chance points to the Pacers’ zero.
- Allen had a quiet 17 on 6/13 shooting, but he came alive in the fourth as both threes he sank claimed one-point leads as the Bucks made their move.
- A big story was the Buck’ second half lineups featuring the two vets versus the first-half ones with the younger guys. Even sans Haliburton, I figured that with the young Pacer backcourt that we’d see a lot of Carter. He was the first off the bench when it was clear Indy would run, but he was largely ineffective. A.J. Green saw time too and while he hit a couple treys, he was targeted defensively.
- Jordan Nwora was the one holdover from that younger crew, but rightfully so. He had a big afternoon with 14 on 4/9 shooting, making all four of his attempts from downtown.
- It seemed like with Matthews and Hill in the game over the younger Green and Carter, the Bucks could dictate the pace of the game to something slower and more manageable than the quicker first. I asked Holiday how they accomplished this, and he first mentioned defense. I found the next answers really fascinating, though. Their smarter shot selection helped since those early-shot clock attempts weren’t befitting of their identity. He noted crashing the offensive boards prevented long rebounds, which he knew usually found their way eventually to former teammate Buddy Hield, a mega-high volume three-point shooter.
- Holiday admitted he was tired in the first half by Indy’s breakneck speed. To my surprise, he even compared them to those D’Antoni/Harden Rockets teams and the Warriors as far as how quickly they ran into space. Was not expecting that.
- Don’t look now, but the Bucks are shooting a lot better from outside recently. Over their past six games, they are shooting 41% on a staggering 49.3 three-point attempts per game.
- Being a day off from school, I could really notice how many kids were at the game by the higher pitch of the crowd’s chants. Too bad they didn’t get to watch Giannis, but they got a win.