The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the New York Knicks by the score of 130-111, maintaining their unblemished record against the Knicks this season (in addition to nine straight overall) and extending their win streak to seven (with the first away win of the streak). Bobby Portis, Malik Beasley, and Khris Middleton acquitted themselves well in this one, while the Knicks were unsurprisingly led by Jalen Brunson and to a lesser extent Julius Randle. Rebounding and three-point shooting were difference makers in this one - not to mention Bobby staring down Randle and coming out on top.
The game started a bit too quickly for Isaiah Hartenstein, who picked up two early fouls and gave way to Taj Gibson. With Beas raining threes, Bobby getting boards, and Giannis playing solid D on Randle, the Bucks slowly built a lead that was only somewhat frittered away due to turnovers at the end of the frame.
The Bobby v. Randle boxing match took full form in the second, with Randle flexing on a drive to the rim and Bobby responding by making pretty much every shot he took. The broader game featured drives afforded by the Knicks’ lack of big men that led to kick-outs for open threes. Late quarter shenanigans - a wedgie, a successful challenge by the Knicks when Dame nudged Brunson on a drive, and a Brunson buzzer beater - kept the lead at high single digits going into the break.
Khris got going in the third quarter, showing off his midrange game as well as silky drives to the rim. (That he was mostly going against Old Friend (?) Donte DiVincenzo was icing on the cake). But as the Bucks extended their lead, everyone was getting in on the fun:
Connaughton from the corner and the bench loves it. pic.twitter.com/GgvDZznFVg— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 23, 2023
Not much to report from the fourth quarter. Bobby and Khris kept doing their thing - even without Giannis and Dame - and an 11-0 run put this game to bed.
The Bucks and company (read: all of the families associated with the team) continue their holiday stay in New York with another tilt against the Knicks on Christmas Day and a game against the Nets two days later.
What Did We Learn?
The Bucks currently sit at 22-7, in large part due to star power. Regardless of who is at the helm, Giannis and Dame are going to rack up wins. So I think it speaks volumes when the Bucks handily win a game when Giannis and Dame are not at their best. Sure, their stat lines were solid - 28/7/7 for Giannis and 19/9/7 for Dame - but they were not crucial elements of the Bucks’ success. Plus-minus can be misleading, but the gaping discrepancy between the superstars (both +3, only higher than Andre Jackson Jr.’s -2) and the role players (+19 for Malik, +17 for Khris and Bobby, even +15 for a misfiring Brook) is notable.
The playoffs (and the regular season) will be smoother if the Bucks don’t tank when their stars sit. But more importantly, in the “personnel vs. system” debate that has raged this season, the fact that the Bucks were able to perform adequately on both sides of the ball even without their stars might be a win for “system” - which I turn to next. In the last extended recap that I wrote, I highlighted three concerns about the Bucks’ defense. Here, I’ll talk about how these same three concerns are looking now.
Three Concerns about the Bucks’ Defense - Redux
The Bucks and Knicks were dead-even with 22 fouls, with the Bucks 18-23 and the Knicks 20-21 at the line. Concerns about the Bucks getting out of position and resorting to fouling opponents were not present yesterday. Overall, though, the Bucks still sit 20th in the league in personal fouls per game. On the flip side, they are 4th in the league in personal fouls drawn per game. This is a reverse of the pattern under Bud, when they were usually top-three in the former and bottom-half of the league for the latter. Thus, Bucks’ games across the board feature more fouls, with the Bucks drawing slightly more fouls to win the bonus battle.
The Bucks outrebounded the Knicks by a margin of 12. Most of this emerged on the defensive end, limiting opportunities for second-chance points. Bobby in particular was (and has been) crashing the boards. The defense seems less chaotic and it is translating to better defensive rebounding (currently 5th in the league). The offensive rebounding still lags near the bottom of the league (though it was never really our strong suit), but it was mid-league in the second half of the young season. It may also be a worthy sacrifice to improve in...
The Bucks outscored the Knicks in the fast break, but the Knicks outscored the Bucks off of turnovers. The Bucks have reduced their opponents’ fast-break points over the course of the season, but opponents’ points off turnovers have increased. The difference would seem to be preparation: the Bucks can be prepared to miss shots and get back in transition (again, sans chaos), but it is tougher to prepare for turnovers, leaving them vulnerable because they are not the fastest horse in the race.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The Sargento banner celebrating that we won the tip-off covered up Giannis as he was passed the ball. *drink*
- Donte has been a bit on a tear from deep as of late, which he continued with a 3-6 performance.
- Speaking of Donte, he apparently declined stretching help from Khris before the game. Classy.
- Bobby and Pat were the first subs, with AJax appearing with two minutes remaining in the first (and playing the fewest minutes of the nine guys who played). Dairy Bird and The Chosen One only played the last few seconds of this one, even though it was settled much earlier. Hm.
- The Bucks jawed with Ben Stiller and John McEnroe, who were sitting courtside. New York.
- A brief glitch had the Bucks with 280 points instead of 28. Sadly they fixed it.
- AJax was the only Buck with a negative plus-minus, but still put in good minutes, featuring a few tip-outs for offensive boards in the first half.
- Bally only adds fouls to the ticker once a team has fouled. I’d prefer them to list both teams as having zero fouls from the jump. The slightly enhanced clarity of the ticker sans-fouls is not worth the effort of me having to remember that they don’t add fouls until they have registered.
- Nothing like Giannis winking to Khris after a good pass.
- The Kwik Trip deal - 30 cents off every gallon of gas if you buy a 18, 24, or 30 pack of Michelob Ultra if the Bucks score 95 through three - remains the most incomprehensible part of the season. Not only is it complex, but it also seems unnecessarily complex. Obviously Kwik Trip would like to double-dip and make money from both liquids, but it would be much simpler if folks just received 95 cents off a 30-pack of Michelob, and they’ll probably buy other things to boot (maybe even gas!). Stay tuned...
- If I didn’t mishear, AJax will be visiting his grandmother upstate today. Sweet.
- Funny bit about basketball players signing each other’s autographs, especially for siblings like the LoBros.
- On the heels of Lisa’s suggestion, Bally put up a graphic of opposing guards who have dropped a thirty-piece on the Bucks this year. Interestingly, the Bucks are undefeated in these games - now 11-0 after yesterday. Might this mean that perimeter defense is overrated? Stay tuned...
- Last but least, let me sound off on the Knicks’ midcourt logo. Their usual logo was lightly stenciled in the background, with an additional NEW YORK written on top with the shadow of another NEW YORK (which was written on their jerseys for symmetry I suppose). Way too many layers, shadows are unnecessary, typical New York navel-gazing - bad bad bad. How about a big loud logo that only says New York once - oh wait, like the usual logo! If it ain’t broke...