It wasn’t pretty for long stretches, but the Bucks held off the Nets last night at Barclays Center by a 129-125 final. Cam Thomas nearly set a career-high with 45 as the Bucks yet again struggled with a young, athletic guard, and Mikal Bridges poured in 31 of his own. Giannis Antetokoumpo had a 36/12 double-double to lead Milwaukee, including 14 in the fourth quarter, with Damian Lillard next up at 21.
Milwaukee played from behind for nearly all of the opening frame as they started out cold from deep, while Brooklyn found early success. However, Giannis quickly began to eat down low because Ben Simmons forgot to take off his MTA turnstile Halloween costume. Two late buckets by The Greek Freak—who had 12 points in nine minutes—had his side down 32-29 after one.
Bobby Portis made his first three of the season to give Milwaukee the lead early in the second. Shots began to fall both inside and out—makes that were badly needed to keep the Bucks in front as they took the Nets’ punches. Without Brook Lopez in the game, head coach Adrian Griffin went into a zone that... didn’t look good. Even when Lopez re-entered, the Bucks struggled to contain a red-hot Cam Thomas (20 first-half points), who sparked a 17-5 Nets run over the closing 5 minutes and garnered his Nets a 67-63 halftime advantage.
Thomas and Mikal Bridges kept dicing up the Bucks’ D in the third while poor shot selection by their opponents (more on that below) helped their squad attain their first double-digit lead. With a bench-heavy lineup, Griffin went back to a zone that was decidedly more effective than the zone in the second, as the Bucks embarked on a 10-0 Bucks run. A Jae Crowder three got Milwaukee their first lead since the 3:50 mark of the second, and a Giannis tip-in near the buzzer capped off a 17-5 run to close the period with the visitors up 96-94.
The Bucks briefly extended that lead to nine, thanks in part to threes by Khris Middleton and Cameron Payne. However, the Nets went on a 12-0 run to snatch the lead back as the Bucks’ defense and shooting went very flat again. Milwaukee battled back, though, taking the lead again with 4:22 remaining. Both teams traded baskets for the next few minutes, but Giannis broke the tie after screening for Middleton with 1:11 left. Those two also combined to make a huge stop on a Nets fast break to keep the lead, and Giannis blocked Thomas’ attempted lay-in with the shot clock off. From there, the Bucks could ice the game at the line.
Now at 4-2, the Bucks head home to take on the Pistons on Wednesday evening, looking to build their first winning streak before the Fiserv Forum crowd.
What Did We Learn?
Griffin probably hasn’t yet had “the talk” with Giannis. And by “the talk” I of course mean the volume of threes he’s taking this season. Indications from the coaching search were that Giannis wanted a head coach who would focus on accountability and that Griff was that kind of dude. But I can’t help but wonder if that was an instance of “rules for thee, not for me” and Giannis wanted other players to be held accountable and not him. That probably isn’t true, but it’s high time to tell Giannis to stop wasting possessions like this. He missed six of his seven three-point attempts on the evening, a game after going 3/3, perhaps emboldening him. As many have noted for years, these kinds of dribble-up, early shot-clock triples by Giannis are tantamount to turnovers, and seem even more egregious now that Lillard is on the team. Take the play below:
Dame is right there and open, dude! Now, Giannis’ second three ties the game. Good, great, grand, wonderful. But this sequence of jacking up another three after receiving the offensive rebound from his first one that missed? Well, this was actually the SECOND time he’d done that exact thing in this game. Granted, when he engaged in this during the first quarter, his initial shot came as the shot clock was down at seven seconds, but when it resets... come on.
If you ask me, it’s time for something of an intervention. One or two a game is ok, but four in the first half alone, all of which missed, is another matter entirely. What’s more, Giannis sank both of his 19–20 footers tonight, one coming after his man bit on a shot fake and he took a few steps inside the three-point line. Each of them looked pretty pure too. Stepping in a little bit and taking another two or three might do him some good, or at least open up the lane a bit more.
Let’s not bury the lede, though: Giannis was stupendous last night.
Take away the seven threes and he’s a hyper-efficient 14/20 to go with 5/6 at the charity stripe. He missed a few bunnies and even got two blocked, but generally, he got whatever he wanted inside. Nic Claxton was out for Brooklyn and they sure missed his presence at the rim, because Simmons just is not cut out for defending Giannis in the paint, if he ever was.
The Giannis-Middleton pick-and-roll combo is here.
This was what won it for the Bucks, offensively speaking. I’m sure Brooklyn was expecting Dame Time (I was too) and Lillard actually had just five fourth-quarter points. Meanwhile, Giannis and Middleton combined for 20 and teamed up for two go-ahead buckets in the final two minutes as they screened for each other. A lot of attention has been paid to the frequency (or lack thereof) of Dame-Giannis pick-and-rolls, but don’t forget that the Bucks already have a P&R duo who won them a ring.
Cam Payne is finding a nice groove.
After hitting three of his four attempts from distance, Payne is sporting a 57.1% 3P% in his first six games. Yes, on opening night and against New York he was pretty absent, but he hit some big ones tonight (he did against Miami too). He overtakes Crowder for the team lead in that category among players who have taken more than one attempt, tied with Beauchamp. All three are over 50%.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Ball movement was lacking a bit in the first quarter or so, but picked up as the game went on. Seems like the ball was less sticky once Griffin started going to his bench. Milwaukee had just five assists in the first quarter, but finished with 26.
- Speaking of, 50 points from the bench mob is excellent. Milwaukee is averaging 41 PPG from their reserves, good for sixth in the lead and not far from third or fourth. The Bucks finished last night with seven players in double figures.
- Those role players shot the Bucks into the game in the first and second quarters; Crowder, Payne, Portis, and Beauchamp started a combined 7/7 from downtown. The rest of the team was just 2/16 during that stretch, with only Pat Connaughton and Lillard sinking treys. The bench was 8/11 from three in the first half while the starters were 1/16. While the reserves—notably Crowder—cooled off after intermission, they still finished 11/21 from three-point land compared to a putrid 5/27 from the starters.
- Giannis was of course responsible for a number of those bricks, but Lillard’s 2/8 has him down at 32.6% from behind the arc on the young season. As Portland fans have attested, sometimes he starts slow, and indeed just two years ago this time, he was at 23.2% through his first six games. That frigidity kept up for a few more games, but that was his injury-shortened year so his season-long numbers weren’t good. Otherwise, he’s never had a six-game stretch to kick off the year below 36.1%, so it hasn’t been quite this icy before.
- Dame also finished -14, though Lopez was at -15. However, I didn’t notice as many breakdowns defensively by Dame in this one, and I think this was just a bad matchup for Lopez since Brooklyn went pretty small without Claxton.
- Beauchamp screwed up his footwork and traveled on a fastbreak dunk that would have given the Bucks a one-point lead in the late third. This fortunately wasn’t critical, but as has been mentioned, the youngster needs to learn not to ALWAYS jump off both feet.
- Giannis tipped in a ball with under a second left off a lop from Crowder that the refs ruled offensive basket interference for some reason. Giannis definitely caught the ball outside the cylinder, as Marques Johnson observed even before the replay. Griffin wisely challenged this and the call was overturned.
- Khris Middleton played 21 minutes last night, the same as on Friday. As I mentioned on our latest podcast, Milwaukee seems to be following the same blueprint as they did last January and February in terms of easing him back in, though it could be a little quicker: Middleton didn’t hit 20 minutes until his fourth game last winter as opposed to his third this fall. It wasn’t until he’d been back two-and-a-half weeks before he hit 25, and it took six weeks before he got above 30.
- Transition defense remains an issue with Brooklyn outscoring Milwaukee 20-11 on the fastbreak. Per Cleaning The Glass, their -3.3 points added per 100 possessions equates to just the ninth percentile leaguewide.
- But hey, the Bucks had a 112 ORtg in the halfcourt last night. I’ll take it.
- Definitely worth mentioning too that this was a very good free-throw shooting night for Milwaukee at 21/24. Dame led the way with 9/10.
- Malik Beasley scored just three points in fourteen minutes after a goose egg on Friday night. He’s averaged just 3.3 PPG and 19 PPG in losses so far. Crowder again closed the game, playing the final nine minutes alongside Giannis, Dame, and Middleton.
- Some stars were out at Barclays Center last night: Adam Driver, Hasan Minhaj, Eric Andre, and John David Washington (Denzel’s son) all were seated together courtside. I guess Ethan Hawke was there too celebrating his birthday—good thing John’s dad Alonzo Harris wasn’t there.