It looked like another ho-hum affair for the Milwaukee Bucks, but out of nowhere an honest-to-God basketball game broke out against the Indiana Pacers. Giannis Antetokounmpo would notch 54 points as the Bucks dug themselves out of a massive early hole to turn this back-to-back into an exciting affair. Unfortunately, the effort to bring a win home late proved too much as the Bucks fell, 124-126.
The game started out exactly as expected on paper: Indiana rushed out to a massive lead early thanks to a combination of great three-point shooting off constant ball movement and a snappy transition approach. Both took advantage of the Bucks defensive weaknesses in maintaining coherent pressure in set possessions or defending in the open court at all. Indiana shot 8-16 from three and racked up 11 assists in the first frame alone. A late defensive surge thanks to a Beauchamp, Jackson Jr., Connaughton, Portis, Antetokounmpo lineup helped the Bucks hold a manageable 24-38 deficit after one.
That same group would be kept in to start the second, and it was from there that Giannis Antetokounmpo began his ascent on another big personal scoring night. Attacking both Obi Toppin and Myles Turner, for the first time this season he had his strength, speed and finesse sync up to get a large number of contested buckets to fall. Slashing, attacking in transition, swinging in off a high P&R, you name it and he gave it a successful go. His 18 second quarter points (incl. 8-8 FTs in the half) were aided by Khris Middleton’s nine — although Middleton struggled to get into an early rhythm due to Bruce Brown’s pesky defense. It was merely a 60-66 hole for the Bucks at the half.
Giannis kept the pedal to the floor out of the break. The first four Bucks offensive possessions went through him, resulting in a made basket, three drawn shooting fouls, two and-ones, and nine points in less than two minutes to make it a 69-71 game. Another and-one and a Khris Middleton bucket later, and the Bucks improbably took the lead at 74-73. With Antetokounmpo yet again having to fight through a forest of defenders, Adrian Griffin went right after the refs for not calling a foul and was duly hit with double technical fouls and ejected from the game.
Who did Griffin point to immediately as his on-court successor? Joe Prunty, of course.
Giannis would sit to catch some rest and Middleton was on a minutes restriction, which meant Milwaukee’s offense slammed to a halt. Cam Payne and Malik Beasley called their own numbers repeatedly just to miss shots or get blocked, and a Pacers surge behind Daniel Theis (ugh) and Buddy Hield got them the lead back in a fast 7-0 run. The lead would change hands a few times, and Indiana started using the strategy that would eventually take them home: throwing doubles at Giannis the second he crossed mid-court. Bucks up after three, 94-93.
Yet the Bucks weathered the initial storm finding tough shots by Beasley and a few nice feeds from Middleton who took over primary ball-handling duties. The Bucks would continue to make tough shots to maintain something close to a nine point lead through a good chunk of the court quarter. A Nesmith three and Mathurin uncontested put-back brought the Pacers within four, and from there it was a matter of execution. Payne got a difficult contested two to drop to keep the Bucks ahead 121-119 before Tyrese Haliburton hit a nice three to re-take the lead, 121-122. The Bucks got the right defensive stands late to give themselves a chance, but Giannis ran out of gas and had two bad turnovers. Prunty drew up a clean ATO three-point look for Middleton who couldn’t convert, and the Bucks would fall 124-126.
What Did We Learn?
Milwaukee’s offense is not really systematic in any sense. Easy for me to say after Giannis goes for 54 points and is thus the center of nearly every possession when he’s on the floor. But what I mean is I can’t deduce any principles that underpin what the Bucks are running besides seeing what Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Khris Middleton can create. I wouldn’t say cutting to the basket is a priority, and God knows setting something other than a slip screen is anathema to anyone not named Brook Lopez. Are there strong pick and roll fundamentals? No. Is moving the ball to hunt the best look a priority? No. That isn’t a bad thing this early in the season, but it does mean that scoring is almost completely predicated on individual talent showing through and not some holistic team approach. If a system ever does get put in place? Watch out.
Milwaukee brought its furious pace of racking up technical fouls to this game that they had against the Pistons Wednesday night. Giannis managed to get himself ejected with a ticky-tack “taunting” call against Detroit, and Adrian Griffin did the double himself against the Pacers. Per Griffin on why he voiced his frustration to refs about how they handled Antetokounmpo:
“He’s such a great human being and he doesn’t complain,” Griffin said. “He has the utmost respect for the ref. I do feel responsible at times to just voice it. Obviously, your voice is choice and you have to be mindful of that. But it is my responsibility to just make sure that he’s protected out there. … I just want to protect him out there, that’s all.”
"I thought Giannis was getting hit quite a bit and I voiced my opinion. Next time I will do it in a little bit more delicate way." #Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin addressed the media after his ejection in the loss to the Pacers. #FearTheDeer | #NBA pic.twitter.com/rsvIJkLqKV— Bally Sports Wisconsin (@BallySportWI) November 10, 2023
From the more reserved Mike Budenholzer to Griffin getting tossed less than 10 games into the season. That’s a shift in coach-ref relations, and it’ll be interesting to see if hounding officials more overtly pays off for the Bucks.
I always struggle with this three things bit on extended recaps, so I’m just using Giannis’s defensive three-second violation (technically a technical foul) to round off this bit.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- I ended up watching the Pacers broadcast and I believe we got our first, “Pat Connaughton could’ve played baseball professionally, you know!” of the season in the final moments of the first quarter.
- Pat would also lead the team in +/- at +17, finishing with 8 points, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds
- Still seems like guys don’t know who should have first dibs on defensive rebounds. In the past under Bud you’d rarely see Brook in the vicinity of a loose ball unless it fell right to him. Nowadays it looks like a Buck-on-Buck scrap for rebounds. Time together and explicit emphasis on how to approach rebounds should help the team in this regard.
- Cam Payne was okay as the lead PG. The dribble was loose, shot selection a little questionable at times, but he still finished with five assists and only one turnover. His energy on defense is a nice plus, but he is, unsurprisingly, no Damian Lillard when it comes to generating scoring chances.
- Another game where a young guy picked up some quick fouls and was left in to work his way through it. This time it was Andre Jackson Jr. who fouled on two consecutive possessions late in the first quarter. Rather than pull him, Griffin let him play out the first and start the second as part of the lineup that staunched the bleeding.
- Two points for Brook Lopez on 1-7 shooting. Bleh.
- I continue to wonder at MarJon Beauchamp’s decision-making with the ball in his hands. If it is clear he should take an open three, he’s fine there. Anything other than that can be a bit of an adventure especially as he isn’t particularly decisive. That constant half-beat delay will continue to be the biggest thing holding him back on offense.
- Myles Turner always gives guarding Giannis his best go. It might not be effective all the time, but I love watching those two duel.
- Tyrese Haliburton is very fun to watch. Some of those looping passes he makes on the move are a wonder, and he’s got scoring at all three levels to fall back on. Unsurprising the Pacers have built such a powerful offensive engine around his skillset.
The Bucks return to action Saturday night in Orlando to face the Magic.