Hey. Yeah, it’s me.
It’s been a while, I know.
Between being on a Caribbean island and dealing with illness sweeping through our house, I have been unable to provide the Wednesday Wrap. But now I’m back, and just in time to take the temperature on a decent sample size of games.
Despite questionable defensive performances, the Milwaukee Bucks have continued plugging away, winning far more often than losing the past few weeks on their way to an 11-3 record over the last 14 games. That stretch saw the Bucks go to Vegas to contest the Semifinals of the In-Season Tournament, where, sadly, they fell short of the Indiana Pacers. Whether you’re optimistic or ringing alarm bells, we’re all wondering just how much the Bucks can continue to improve internally, or if another piece is needed to bring the whole together.
Alright, enough stalling, let’s wrap-up
The Weeks That Were
- Bucks 116, Celtics 119 (No Fourth Quarter Miracle)
- Bucks 131, Wizards 128 (Burn the Tape)
- Bucks 108, Trail Blazers 102 (That was a close one)
- Bucks 131, Heat 124 (Another clutch victory)
- Bucks 113, Bulls 120 (There’s a limit to clutchiness)
- Bucks 132, Hawks 121 (Milwaukee Wins Their Eighth Straight Home Game)
- Bucks 146, Knicks 122 (Milwaukee Advance to IST Semis)
- Bucks 119, Pacers 128 (An In-Season Tragedy)
- Bucks 133, Bulls 129 (Milwaukee Survives Chicago in Overtime)
The Milwaukee Bucks have a pattern of finding ways to win, but is it at all concerning that out of the 23 games they’ve played, 14 have involved “clutch” minutes (defined as, “minutes played when the scoring margin is within five points with five or fewer minutes remaining in a game.”)? Maybe, maybe not. It is really a matter of perspective. For now, finding pathways to victory come hell or high water is a suitable starting point for building good habits. If you’re going to begin the year extraordinarily strong in one aspect of the game, there are worse places to start than winning close. And boy are the Bucks winning close: Look no further than the scores and titles of the recaps the last two weeks. The theme of the contested nature of these games is undeniable.
A win is a win?
Setting aside your feelings on the number of close games, you have to give Milwaukee credit for their ability to perform and win on very thin margins. In the fourteen games that have had minutes played in clutch time the Bucks have won 10 and lost four (71.4% win rate). Last season, Milwaukee registered 35 games in the clutch, the second-fewest in the league, and won 27, resulting in a league-leading 77.1% win rate. For number’s sake, a Bucks game in 2023-2024 features clutch minutes ~60% of the time while clutch minutes came into play in about ~40% of games in 2022-2023.
There were moments during the Bud era when the Bucks would struggle in clutch moments, with the Miami series being the most notable — still, on the whole that group also dug out ways to win late. This year, while the raw win percentage has dropped (on a smaller sample, to be fair), there is a sense of marked improvement in the style and execution utilized to win in the last few minutes. Helped by Damian Lillard’s reputation and actual performance, the Bucks are developing a penchant for, “finding ways to win.” But are they truly “better” in the clutch than in the past? Looking at the simple statistics, the answer would be yes:
The Bucks have increased their points per game, and despite an increase in points their opponents scored, the Bucks have also improved their +/-. Part of the increase is simply playing more clutch minutes per game than last season; however, the Bucks’ opponents have also shot worse from the field this year than in the 2022-23 season. Looking at the advanced stats, the trend of Milwaukee’s improvement over last season continues:
The Bucks improved in all three areas; the net rating last season was 2.8, while so far in the current season, the Bucks are sporting a league-best 26.6. I wasn’t expecting that large of a gap, and the primary reason isn’t necessarily the offense (which undoubtedly improved), but that was going to be a given with the addition of Damian Lillard and Malik Beasley. It’s that defensive rating that demands your attention. Right now, Milwaukee’s defense is the third-best in the NBA in clutch minutes. In part, I believe this particularly highlights the talent of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez and their ability to make plays when needed. When it matters most, the Bucks defense can dial in. And it begs the question of whether or not the aggressive defense Milwaukee employs the other 43 minutes has a hand in wearing out opponents, too? Is there a method to the madness that sets Milwaukee up for success when an opponent is fatigued and therefore more prone to making mistakes late?
So the statistics, both general and advanced, would point to yes, Milwaukee has improved in the clutch compared to last year and is one of the best teams in the league when the game gets close. For all the (not at all misplaced) hand-wringing and frustrations with the overall defensive play, Milwaukee’s ability to play when it matters most may balance things out. The numbers and results show they can execute on defense and do what Adrian Griffin asks, but they must also show it the other three quarters.
Bottom line? The Milwaukee Bucks find ways to win. Right now maybe that is just as important, if not more important, than how they win.
What’s The Vibe?
The Milwaukee Bucks Fan Experience in a nutshell: