As we enter into the final stretch of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks have set themselves up at the dinner table to have one helluva feast. During the first quarter of the season, they excelled. During the second quarter, they struggled. But during the third quarter, they straight-up dominated. Let’s take a look at why the Bucks are sitting in first place, not just in the East, but the league as a whole with a record of 45-17.
Let’s get to it!
If you’re curious about the other reports, you can find quarter 1 here, and quarter 2 here.
3RD QUARTER SUMMARY
The Bucks closed out the third quarter riding a sweeeet 16-game win streak (that ain’t over yet!), which marks the largest win streak by any team so far this season. With a scorching record of 18-2 during the last twenty games, Milwaukee hasn’t let up on the gas pedal as they round the corner for the final stretch of the regular season.
Here’s a quick reminder of the breakdown of the four quarters:
Quarter 1: 14 home games, 8 away games (Bucks record: 16-6)
Quarter 2: 7 home games, 13 away games (Bucks record: 11-9)
Quarter 3: 11 home games, 9 away games (Bucks record: 18-2)
Quarter 4: 9 home games, 11 away games (including a 4-game road trip)
As you can see, the fourth quarter that lies ahead will challenge our Bucks a bit more because of an extended road trip and the fact that 8 of the final 20 games are against teams that are sitting in the top five in their respective conferences. Definitely not easy, but the Bucks are showing the league that they aren’t scared of, well, anyone.
The Bucks were undefeated at home this quarter, with their only two losses coming on the road (and in games that Giannis didn’t play). As impressive as a 16-game win streak is, it is made even more jaw-droppingly awesome by the fact that they did it while integrating Jae Crowder after the trade deadline AND while Khris Middleton is still on a minutes restriction. Keep in mind, Jae Crowder hadn’t played in an NBA game for a little over 9 months before debuting with the Bucks. The fact that the win streak continued without missing a beat says a lot about both the work ethic of Crowder and the culture of the Milwaukee Bucks. It can be difficult to play at a high level when you have new teammates who have to learn new schemes… thankfully that’s not the case in this scenario. Milwaukee’s not even at full strength yet and they’re still playing like the best team in the league.
Let’s break down how the Bucks were able to have such a successful third quarter by examining the Giannis Quarterly Report, the X-Factors, and the Standout performances.
THE GQ REPORT
In 32.3 minutes per game, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.3 points, 12 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 54.1 FG%, 64.5 FT%, 0.8 blocks, and 3.9 turnovers.
- Scored at least 30 points in eleven of the fifteen games he suited up for.
- Had 3 games where he scored 40+ points, bringing his total on the season to 11. This set a new career high.
- Scored 50+ points twice this quarter. He’s completed that feat 3 times thus far this season.
- Didn’t play in 5 games this quarter, bringing his total on the season to 12. That being said, he also played in two games where he played less than 10 minutes before exiting with an injury and not returning. Including those in the DNP category would bring his total to 7 in. the quarter.
What more is there to say about the Greek Freak? He’s had some absolutely massive games this quarter and is at the center of the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak they’re currently rocking. His team sits at #1 in the league without a fully healthy squad. Antetokounmpo is just as dominant as anyone in the league, and presents one of the biggest problems for opposing teams: just how in the world do we tackle the task of guarding him?! For some teams, it’s just that—they tackle him. His numbers continue to be at an MVP level through the ¾ mark of the season, and as an added bonus, he got his first career win as an All-Star captain due to some crafty drafting!
The only slight concerns here are two things: 1) His FT% is still too low, but to be honest with you… the fewer notes he gets about this, the better. He’s too in his head and just needs to quiet his mind at the line. Block the world out, my guy. And 2) Giannis was effectively out for 7 games this quarter due to minor injuries to his wrist, knee, and quad. The good news is that these injuries are showing all the signs of general wear and tear during a long season, and he seems to have avoided anything serious. Also, the Bucks showed that they were capable of winning even when their superstar sits. This is a deep team that can throw a lot of different lineups at opponents, so even if Giannis has to miss a few more games this season to be 100% by the time the playoffs roll around, they’ll be aight.
Big Defensive Energy
There are two statistical things Milwaukee does better than any other team in the league, and one of them is defense. After sliding slightly in the defensive ratings during the second quarter, the Bucks tightened it up and locked it down to launch themselves back on top as the best defensive team in the league. The Cavaliers and the Grizzlies are the only two teams even close to the Bucks’ impressive 109.1 rating in this particular department.
During this stretch, Milwaukee has…
- Held opponents to a measly 45.2 FG% from the floor (4th-best)
- Only allowed 33.9% of the enemies’ threes to find the bottom of the net (5th-best)
- Held opposing teams to a minuscule 22.9 assists per game (2nd-best)
- Handed their opponents an average plus/minus score of -10.1 (league-best)
The defensive output has been smothering, to say the least. The Bucks have three players who could possibly make All-Defensive First Team this year. That’s bonkers. Last year, both Giannis and Jrue were All-Defensive First Team, but this year Brook has something cooking and is looking to join ‘em.
The second thing the Bucks do better than any other squad is grabbing rebounds. Milwaukee grabs the most boards of any NBA team so far this season, and while it may not be a flashy statistic to whip out at a party, it’s the bread and butter of winning games. They are averaging nearly 50 rebounds per game at 49.3. The next-closest team is the Utah Jazz at 47.8.
Besides Giannis’ 12 rebounds per game, take a look at who is grabbing the other 48:
- Bobby Portis, 9.8 RPG
- Brook Lopez, 6.6 RPG
- Jrue Holiday, 5.1 RPG
- Pat Connaughton, 5 RPG
Those five players alone grab nearly 39 rebounds per game between them, and two of them are guards. It just goes to show you that being shorter is not an excuse to neglect the boards. And getting rebounds equates to what? Gaining possession of the ball. Having possession of the ball equates to what? Scoring (that’s the idea, anyway).
The Three Ball’s Been Hot, Hot, Hot
During this quarter, Milwaukee has shot 39.1% from deep, which is good enough for 6th in the league during the stretch. This is a huge improvement over the previous quarter when they only shot 34.4% from three (36.7% on the season). The Bucks chuck up more deep balls than any other team in the league, averaging 43.1 attempts per game. Coach Bud’s strategy of “let it fly” seems to be working as of late. The law of averages is a real thing, and Bud is nothing if not a patient tactician.
In the last quarterly report, we examined four of Milwaukee’s high-volume 3-point shooters and how they were struggling to find the bottom of the net.
At end of the 2nd Quarter:
Bobby Portis: 32% (compared to 39.3% last season) -7.3%
Grayson Allen: 38.7% (compared to 40.9% last season) -2.2%
Jrue Holiday: 38.1% (compared to 41.1% last season) -3%
Pat Connaughton: 30.9% (compared to 39.5% last season) -8.6%
Let’s see how they’re doing now...
At end of the 3rd Quarter:
Bobby Portis: 33.9% (compared to 39.3% last season) -5.4%
Grayson Allen: 40.5% (compared to 40.9% last season) - .4%
Jrue Holiday: 37.7% (compared to 41.1% last season) -3.4%
Pat Connaughton: 34.8% (compared to 39.5% last season) -4.7%
Besides Jrue, everyone improved their percentages from deep over the past 20 games. Jrue should get a pass because the added responsibility of carrying the offensive load required him to shoot more 3’s than usual, which a lot of times results in a lower percentage. But as a collective, they have taken a huge step towards the high clip they were completing 3-pointers at last season. Sure, as a team they haven’t quite gotten back to where they want to be living in terms of our completion rate, but they’re clearly trending in the right direction thanks to some mighty 3-point barrages in the 3rd quarter of the season. Hopefully, they can continue that trajectory as we close out the regular season AND continue it into the playoffs.
There have been increasing concerns about Milwaukee’s offense as we near the end of the season, which sits at 17th in the league (114.4), however, during the last 20 games the Bucks were much improved with the 9th-best offensive rating in the league (118.0). This huge jump in offensive output has coincided with Middleton’s return to the lineup, and because he’s not even playing at full capacity yet, we should expect to see the team’s offense continue to improve.
Jrue Holiday, AKA Kung Fu Jrue
The two-time all-star has been outstanding during the third quarter, during which he played in every single game. On the season, he’s averaging 19.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per contest. In ten of the past twenty games he’s scored at least 20 points, in four of those games he scored at least 30, and he threw in a 40-piece for good flavor. Holiday has shown the league that he’s not just a defensive powerhouse (which he undeniably is), but that he can also score with the best of them. When Giannis had to sit, Jrue stepped up to the plate. Because that’s what a good teammate does.
Speaking of teammates, just take a look at what Grayson had to say about Jrue before All-Star voting ended:
We’ve known Jrue to have this “slow and steady wins the race” sort of approach to the game, but when he wants to, he can do his best Greek Freak impression:
JRUE HOLIDAY. pic.twitter.com/MczRjPdUvM— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 2, 2023
As Middleton is still on a minutes restriction, Holiday has leveled up to fill the void. With his world-class defense and improved offensive output, he’s a huge part of the winning culture in Milwaukee. Keep ballin’, Jrue.
Brook Lopez, AKA Splash Mountain
Playing in every single contest during the last 20 games, Lopez has been the anchor of the Bucks’ defense. I know he’s been included in the Standouts of the past two quarterly reports, but you can’t stop greatness. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. During the third quarter of the season, he had a 33-point game and he notched at least 3 blocks eight separate times. Brook is also the league leader in defended field goals per game, at a whopping 10.6. You honestly can’t even fully quantify what he does on defense because as opponents drive into the paint looking for an easy bucket, they have to at the very least think twice as they see a towering seven-footer coming at them. This can cause poor decision-making as they try to pass out of their ill-advised drive, or they can attempt to loft a floater high in the sky at the rim because there’s rarely any other way around him.
Jevon Carter, AKA the Bulldog
Turns out that bringing Jevon off the bench and taking the primary ball-handling responsibilities out of his hands has been exactly the thing to maximize his potential. He continues to be an excellent on-ball defender, picking guards up full court and annoying the hell out of them. But in addition to that, he’s been hotter than Beyonce from deep, sinking 41.1% of his 3-balls. In 11 of the past 20 games, Carter has scored in double digits and made at least two 3s. That’s exactly what you want out of a role player. He’s the definition of a spark plug off the bench. Oh, and on top of all of that, he’s the only Buck who’s played in every single game this season.
Wow. Just wow. We couldn’t have asked for a stronger third quarter this season as we ride a 16-game win streak into the final stretch. There have been some folks in the media who are concerned that the Bucks are peaking too early. To them I have this to offer: it’s impossible to peak when the entire Big Three hasn’t started a game together since December 11th. When that begins happening on a consistent basis, and they start to gel like the thickest pomade you can imagine, that’s when you can say they’ve reached their final form in the evolution of the Bucks. Until then, relax. This is a team that knows how to win. They know what it takes to be successful in the postseason, and they know how it feels to win a championship.
Based on the way they’re playing it’s pretty clear they all have one goal in mind: to reach the top of the mountain again.
Here’s wishing the Bucks all the health, energy, and gumption needed to get there.