Welcoming back Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo to the lineup, the All-Star duo combined for a whopping 89 points as the Bucks rolled the Pacers 149-136 in a wild one. Holiday’s career-best 51 led all scorers and Giannis amassed a triple-double with his 38 points, while Bennedict Mathurin poured in 29 for the losing side.
In the opening minutes, Giannis repeatedly looked to establish himself down low with a flurry of drives, resulting both in buckets and trips to the line. He scored 13 before his first breather, well-needed with how physically Indy played him. Otherwise, this one went back and forth, as Indiana flashed their trademark brand of pace that gives Milwaukee trouble. At the end of one, Milwaukee held a 34-30 advantage.
Also returning to the floor was Holiday, who had 10 of his own entering the second, then raising that total by 16. Threes started falling for both squads after cold starts; though the Bucks maintained their lead, the confluence of the Pacers’ quickness, a few second-chance points, and several Buck turnovers meant they couldn’t separate much. Indiana equaled Milwaukee’s 39 in the period, and if it wasn’t for Holiday’s career-best-for-one-half 27 plus Giannis’ near triple-double (thanks to five second-quarter dimes), the visitors wouldn’t have led 73-69 after a half.
Though Holiday quickly got to work out of the locker room with two quick buckets, Indiana held fast to their guns by keeping up their quick tempo and burying threes. After a 20/10/9 first half, Giannis got his triple-double just over three minutes into the third, then went back into attack mode. He and Holiday also set up Brook Lopez inside a couple of times to give the Bucks their first double-digit lead. To maintain it, Holiday established a new career high at 42 during his 26th minute, and the quarter concluded with his Bucks up 119-107 behind a 46-point third.
(watch first 90 seconds of fourth) Some ferocious dunks (see below) swelled Milwaukee’s lead back to 20 before long, amounting to a 21-6 run that put this one away. Though Giannis returned to the scorer’s table midway through, he soon strolled back to the bench as the Bucks kept the Pacers well out of reach, and coach Mike Budenholzer went deep into his bench as they wrapped up a 3-1 road trip.
At 55-21, the Bucks return to Fiserv Forum this evening to face the Boston Celtics, who are now three games back in the standings. Though this game will determine a seeding tiebreaker, the magic number—a combination of Milwaukee wins and Boston losses—for Milwaukee to guarantee home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs is now four, with six games remaining for each team.
March 29th is hardly observed around the world as any sort of holiday, so we’ll just call this Jrue’s Holiday. Somewhat stealthily, he hit double figures in the first’s dying embers, and I’ll admit to being unaware he had 10 going into quarter number two. There would be no such quietness from then on as he notched 17 and 18 in the following two frames, respectively. He simply could not miss from there, hitting his next nine attempts before biffing a layup a couple of minutes out of halftime. Undeterred, he continued probing the weak Indiana zone for easy looks all over the floor, capping off his first-ever fifty burger with this sensational line: 20/26 from the field, 3/6 from deep, and 8/10 at the line. He even flirted with a triple-double, pulling in eight boards to go with eight assists. When asked when he knew it was his night, he channeled Jevon Carter.
Giannis put up the fastest triple-double of his career. In the beginning stages last night, before Holiday went nuclear in the second, it looked like it would be Giannis’ night. He began his evening barrelling into the teeth of the Myles Turner-less Indiana defense, drawing a lot of contact. He picked up a quick T arguing with a no-call where a Pacer defender appeared to clearly push him in the back as he went up for a lob. As I mentioned, Indiana was hacking him early and often. A bit excessively too; one of their common fouls—one in which Giannis was essentially tackled as he stormed inside—was upgraded to a flagrant-1 as he slashed to the rim. Though he deferred to Holiday and Lopez at times to help keep Indy at bay, he reverted back to flying straight into their helpless rim protectors once his triple-double was secure, dropping another 18 in the second half. Finishing 14/18 from the field and 10/14 at the charity stripe, his typical efficiency was further exemplified by the fact that he made it 12 of his 14 attempts inside the restricted area. Oh, and he summarily baptized poor Jalen Smith:
Brook Lopez came alive in the second half to help secure the W. Splash Mountain had just four points in the first half, though he had his hands full with Indiana’s relentless early-shot clock penetration inside. Not only did he have more success thwarting the Pacers down low in the second half, but he also missed just one of his eight shots on the way to 21 points. He routinely got position on Indiana’s undersized frontcourt in the paint and also cut through their zone for easy finishes or dunks. Add in his three rejections and he was a significant part of this victory after it initially appeared that no one aside from Giannis and Holiday could get going.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The above poster by Giannis? He was simply trying to not be outdone after Grayson Allen did the following. Guess who he did it to? It ended up being his only field goal of the evening, but man was it a doozy:
- Though both were listed as questionable prior to tip, Khris Middleton was a late scratch and Joe Ingles was a DNP-CD. Both certainly will play tonight. Carter got the start in Middleton’s place.
- I mentioned Giannis’ technical, which was one of four in this game, three for Milwaukee. I don’t think the game was over-officiated necessarily, but with that Nuggets game fresh in my memory, it sure seems like the Bucks are chirpier lately.
- Freshly-minted Buck killer T.J. McConnell entered midway through the first and promptly hit an off-the-dribble J. He had a few more of those pullups in the 11-foot range, but he was pretty muted by his standards against Milwaukee with 12 points on 6/8 shooting. Single-game plus/minus isn’t always very telling, but after +36 in these teams’ previous matchup and Indiana generally playing Milwaukee very well when he’s on the floor, -8 tonight is notable.
- Indiana shoots the three pretty well at 36.3% on 37.4 attempts per game, both figures just two spots below Milwaukee on the NBA’s leaderboards. As you might guess, those numbers against the Bucks are even higher: they entered this one at 44.9% from downtown in three contests on 39.7 attempts per, and after hitting 46.7% of their treys last night, their conversion jumped up to 45.4% However, the Bucks did a good job of limiting the Pacers’ looks as the night wore on, as the home team finished 2/8 after a 12/22 start into the third. These kids can definitely shoot, even when the shot is well-contested.
- Also, man alive, does Indy run up and down the court. We knew this from the other three meetings, but what stuck out to me from the first one back on MLK Day was how Milwaukee effectively slowed the game down after being run out of the gym prior to the third quarter. In this one, the Bucks didn’t really do that, but instead did their level best to match the Pacers’ speed by pushing it in transition themselves. However, their main counter mainly came from annihilating Indiana’s lacking interior: their edge in the paint was 86-64.
- Not only is Indiana fast, but they’re athletic too. Scoring 64 points in the paint on this Bucks team is a lot. I can’t think of any other team who can soar into dunks and lobs in the restricted area like the Pacers can, even with Lopez patrolling the paint. Jalen Smith, who is building a nice career for himself after not getting a chance in Phoenix, stands out in this regard. He and Isaiah Jackson are pretty springy, and Lopez didn’t contain them much until the second half. After that point, he and the Bucks built up more of a no-fly zone.
- Turnovers haven’t been as much of an issue lately for the Bucks, but as with their other tilts with these pesky Pacers, it was a problem at points in this one. They coughed up 8 in the first half to Indy’s two, a margin which was ten to six in the second half. At one juncture, points off turnovers were in favor of Indiana 19-2, though Milwaukee narrowed it to 25-14. Still, live ball turnovers to one of the NBA’s best transition offenses made this win trickier than it needed to be, especially early on.
- While the rebounding totals massively tilted in Milwaukee’s favor at 52-29, the difference was smaller on the offensive glass at 14-10. I mention this because second-chance points favored 19-16 (Indy converted all eight of their second-chance opportunities), a number that was 13-4 at the half. Assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer highlighted that disparity in his interview with Zora Stephenson before the third, so it was clear that offensive rebounds were a discussion point in the locker room.
- You can accuse me of burying the lede here, but Jordan Nwora wasn’t all that impressive tonight. Aside from hitting a couple of threes in the second in front of the Bucks’ bench, his 18 points on 7/14 shooting was not as memorable as his 12 points the other week. As we well know, he scores plenty but does little else (2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal) and ended a team-worst -23. As seen above, he received the ignominy of Allen’s lone make too. Elsewhere in erstwhile Bucks: as you’ll see in the video above, George Hill gave Holiday some love for his career night, but he didn’t attempt a field goal in 14 minutes. He was, however, one of just three Pacers whose plus/minus wasn’t below water.
- A.J. Green checked in for second-quarter minutes in what was his first run since March 16th and splashed home a corner triple before long. He later hit another one and even tried a tough finish beneath the rim after finding himself underneath (a rarity). He also had a nice dish to a cutting Wesley Matthews in the dunker late.
- Though he was the only Buck in double figures aside from the guys mentioned in Three Bucks with 12, Bobby Portis had a bit of a rough night at the office, racking up four personals in his 23 minutes. Aaron Nesmith had a five-point possession to end the third due to a Bobby Portis flagrant-1: he hit both free throws and with the possession Indiana gained, he hit a buzzer-beating three to end the penultimate quarter. Portis’ fourth foul was of the offensive variety, and it even got reviewed for the possibility of upgrading to a flagrant. Jalen Smith really sold the few molecules of Portis’ elbow that made a glancing blow with his chin, but the refs didn’t buy it.
- I’m glad to not see these Pacers match up with the Bucks again for at least six more months. All-Star and NBA assist leader (Wisconsin native too!) Tyrese Haliburton hasn’t appeared in any of these teams’ meetings this year due to injury, so we’ll have to wait until next season to see what Indiana can do with their star young point guard available. Given how bonkers this set was in 2022–23, I’m both dreading and excited to see how this Central Division rivalry develops now that Rick Carlisle has these young fellas zooming around like hummingbirds.