The Indiana Pacers aren’t as dangerous without potential All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton, but they made the Bucks work for all 48 minutes to secure Milwaukee’s 141-131 victory.
From the jump, Giannis Antetokounmpo had the appearance of a guy who Indiana would struggle to slow down, much less stop. Pacers center Myles Turner has the tools, in theory, to give Giannis problems, but from the second offensive possession on it was all Giannis: stop-starts, decisive dribble moves, regularly beating Turner to the first step, and powering his way through when needed. Antetokounmpo would finish with 41 points (16-29 from the floor), 12 rebounds, and 6 assists. The perimeter shooting came along for Milwaukee as well, with Joe Ingles, Pat Connaughton, Wes Matthews, Grayson Allen, Brook Lopez, and Giannis himself hitting from deep as the Bucks jumped to a 45-30 first quarter lead.
The second quarter was more of the same for Milwaukee, with a closing lineup of Jrue Holiday, Pat, Khris Middleton, Ingles, and Lopez really clicking on all offensive cylinders to close the quarter. Most remarkable was the fluidity that lineup flashed thanks in part to the passing ability of Ingles and Middleton at the wing/forward spots, quintuple threat of outside shooting, and off-ball movement that kept generating good looks around the court. Middleton looked the best he has so far this season season, especially getting into his on-ball routine using every trick available to create enough room to get a jumper off or push for a clean look attacking the paint. Bucks up 85-56 at the half.
Indiana would not go away lightly after getting 30-balled, however. Milwaukee’s offense didn’t completely crap out, but the Pacers more or less hit everything they threw at the rim, shooting 18-24 from the floor in the third. TJ McConnell couldn’t miss a reverse layup if he tried and Buddy Hield — Indy’s most dangerous microwave scorer — contributed 16 points of his own having played all 12 minutes of the third quarter. Milwaukee would hold a suddenly-shaky 114-99 lead heading into the fourth.
Every Buck not named Giannis struggled to make anything happen — Grayson, Pat, and Jevon Carter each made a basket, and that was it — and the Pacers kept chipping away. Eventually, the lead got down to a mere 7 points as Indy instituted Hack-A-Giannis for a solid two minutes. Antetokounmpo, who had been struggling from the FT line, answered the call making 5-6 of the intentional free throws forced his way, and the Pacers finally ran out of gas. Bucks win, 141-131.
Three Big Three
Giannis The Entertainer
Last night was Giannis Antetokounmpo at his entertainment best. All season long he has been asked to carry more than his fair share of the team’s fortunes, and at times it looked to wear him out a bit. While the team is not fully healthy yet (Khris on a minutes restriction, Bobby Portis out with knee trouble), we’re starting to see glimpses of energy rejuvenation from Giannis. In particular, I was floored by the recovery speed he showed time and time again. He sets a hard screen, almost gets knocked over, recovers to turn and sprint towards the paint to pay off a Holiday P&R pass. Indiana throws three defenders in his way, and he just... runs past them all. People hope he will do things that captures their hearts and imagination. He delivers. Always.
Khris Middleton makes it make more sense
We dare not declare Khris “all the way back” just yet, but the 15 minutes he played last night were encouraging as he notched 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Even if he doesn’t make 7-9 of his two point attempts routinely he at least capably soaks up a few possessions all on his own giving the other guys a breather or a break-glass option if an offensive set doesn’t go as planned. The minutes he shared on the court with Joe Ingles were particularly interesting and should be something to keep an eye on as we move forward. So long as opposing teams can’t punish Ingles on defense, there is no reason why Mike Budenholzer can’t trot out a Jrue-Khris-Joe-Giannis-Whoever lineup of death that can rip opponents to shreds. Contours of something greater are starting to emerge.
Jrue Holiday — Off-Ball Menace
Jrue was his normal self on offense; which is to say, consistently inconsistent on his way to a 20 point, 9 rebound, 9 assist, 6 turnover evening. Defense is what makes him special, though, and on that end he delivered. With Milwaukee in a scoring rut and the Pacers threatening to go off, Holiday was tasked with keeping Buddy Hield grounded no matter the cost. During all of Hield’s six fourth quarter minutes, Holiday was more or less glued to him, knocking him off balance regularly, violently breaking up off-ball screen attempts, and generally doing every little trick to deny Hield — a 43% catch and shoot guy — any opportunity to help push Indiana forward. A crucial matchup Jrue dominated to help bring home the win.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Jevon Carter fouled out with something like 8:30 left in the fourth quarter after earning three personal fouls in less than 45 seconds. A bit of an unfriendly whistle? Maybe. Funny, nonetheless.
- I appreciate that Wes Matthews regularly finds himself underneath the basket going to war for offensive rebounds. Somebody has got to be willing to do the dirty work, and Matthews happened to be in the right place at the right time to grab three offensive rebounds and keep the Bucks offense engaged.
- Joe Ingles claimed to Zora Stephenson that he invented the “catch high, shoot high” motion. He even said we should do our own research to prove it. You’re telling me dudes in the 1940s who were at the frontier of basketball’s development didn’t have some crazy high release motions? I’m skeptical.
- Milwaukee has dropped exactly 32 assists in both victories over the Pacers this season. Sharing is caring (and winning).
- TJ McConnell did his best Matthew Dellavedova impressions in the second half diving for loose balls and launching passes to streaking teammates from a seated position. Some of the shots he was getting to fall just didn’t make any sense at all, too.
- Jordan Nwora contributed 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal in ~12 minutes of play and was still good for +9. Hope other GMs are watching.
- The Bucks have now shot 40% or better from three in five of their last six games. They’ve won all five of those games. They shot 35.9% against the Cavaliers in their only loss in that span. If they continue dialing in from distance, it’ll be extremely difficult to beat them.