On Christmas Day, the Milwaukee Bucks were defeated by the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Surprisingly (at least to me), Jalen Brunson was the most productive scorer on either team, tallying 38 points on 15-of-28 shooting. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett also pulled their weight offensively, adding 24 and 21 respectively. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard each had 32 points, and Khris Middleton had 24 of his own.
Giannis kicked off the scoring with an alley-oop off of a lob by Brook Lopez, and he notched a mid-range jumper from the left baseline shortly after for good measure. A contested layup from Brunson and a three from Barrett helped the Knicks respond. Brunson’s groove continued, and he was taking whatever he wanted from the midrange—and connecting. Bobby Portis and Andre Jackson Jr. kept the Bucks’ offense afloat, and Dame hit a deeeeeeep 3-pointer to close out the quarter, but the Knicks had a nine point lead after one.
Early in the second quarter, the Bucks scored eight straight points to bring the score within five, but Barrett and Brunson were quick to rebuild New York’s advantage. Lillard added seven points in the final three minutes of the second half to cut into the Knicks’ lead. Would you be shocked if I told you New York’s big three (Barrett, Randle, and Brunson) each scored to counter this effort? Well, they did. Knicks 62, Bucks 51 at the break.
Isaiah Hartenstein was on a mission out of the locker room, as he scored the Knicks’ first seven points in the second half. Giannis continued to attack the rim, and Brook added to the stat sheet with some free throws and a floater. Giannis scored four straight points, and Pat Connaughton nailed a three to bring the Bucks within four. Just when it seemed like the Bucks were igniting a run, Brunson and Immanuel Quickley got to the line to extend the lead once again. The Knicks were still up 11 heading into the fourth quarter.
Khris buried a three and a midrange jumper to kick off the final quarter, but the Knicks seemed to counter every bucket with a flurry of inside scoring and free throws. Despite Lillard and Giannis attempting to mount a run with threes and layups, New York was able to keep the Bucks at arm’s length and cruise to a 129-122 victory.
What Did We Learn?
The Bucks now sit at 22-8, good for second place in the Eastern Conference and first place in the Central Division.
I’m not particularly worried about the Knicks; the Bucks were 3-0 against them heading into today’s game (including a 19-point victory two nights ago). Still, the NBA game on Christmas Day is a big deal as a fan (maybe not as big as it used to be, but that’s a conversation for another blog). It’s a game you’d like to see your team win, and that was a frustrating way to go down. The defensive lapses that have plagued this team all year made their regular visits, and they prevented the Bucks from gaining ground whenever the offense started rolling. Seriously, every time Dame or Khris would get Milwaukee within striking distance, a Brunson fadeaway or a Hartenstein layup was just around the corner, and the momentum was gone in an instant. It was really tough to see. I don’t want to be the guy that overreacts to a regular season game just because it had a national spotlight, but I would not feel good about a defensive effort like this in a playoff Game 7. A serious team would eat our lunch.
Three Numbers of Note
This is the number of 3-pointers attempted by the Bucks tonight. This number makes sense, as the squad was playing from behind for most of the game, but the Bucks converted just 13 of those attempts, good for an uninspiring 31%. They converted 50% of their attempts in the win against the Knicks on the 23rd (16-of-32).
This is the number of points the Knicks scored in the paint today. The Bucks had just 50.
This is the number of points Khris Middleton scored today. This was his season-high and fourth time scoring 20+ points in the month of December. He’s getting his mojo back, and it’s great to see! I’m excited to see the squad with this version of Middleton down the stretch.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The Bucks are now 5-4 all-time in NBA Christmas games and 3-3 during the Giannis era. Also, isn’t it crazy that the Bucks had only played in THREE total Christmas games before Giannis?
- The Bucks won’t face off with the Knicks again until April 7, so they will have plenty of time to figure out how to stop Jalen Brunson from doing whatever he wants on offense for 48 minutes.
- I didn’t have any audio while watching this game (Christmas Day family stuff), so I don’t have a strong opinion about the audio of the broadcast. Feel free to let me know how the announcers did out there though; I’m curious.