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Milwaukee vs. Washington: Bucks’ Wizardry Reduces Magic Number

Nearly two triple doubles and white-hot three point shooting highlighted this offensive outburst

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Milwaukee Bucks v Washington Wizards Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

In a contest not as close as the final score indicates, the Bucks went into our nation’s capital and defeated the already-eliminated Wizards. Coupled with the Celtics’ loss to the Sixers, the magic number for the Bucks to clinch the East’s top overall seed is now one.

Without *takes deep breath* Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma, Monte Morris, Deni Avdija, and Delon Wright, Washington’s rotation looked like an edition of TNT”s “Who He Play For?” While some late threes helped the Bucks separate a bit to the tune of an 8-0 run, the Wizards snapped right back with five points of their own, leading to a 32-29 score in the Bucks’ favor after one.

Both sides caught fire from deep toward the end of the first, and that carried over into the next frame. After trading buckets for a few minutes, a 9-2 run put Milwaukee up double digits, fueled by offensive rebounds. Washington tried to get back into it, but the visitors stayed hot behind the arc and took a 75-62 advantage into halftime behind a 43-point period.

The Bucks’ 8/13 three-point performance in the second didn’t wane, as they went 6/12 in the third. Ten points in barely two minutes from Jae Crowder quickly staked their lead to 19, which grew to as big as 24 in the ensuing action. Milwaukee then started pummeling Washington inside, but Kendrick Nunn and Jay Huff sank a trio of triples in the final minute to cut it to 114-97 through three quarters.

Nunn’s heater continued and helped the Wiz slice the lead to a dozen with ten minutes remaining. Mike Budenholzer called timeout, and the ensuing 8-2 run gave the Bucks some breathing room. Washington wouldn’t go away, however, closing back to thirteen a couple of times. Thankfully, some big threes by Jrue Holiday and Joe Ingles put it out of reach, enough for Bud to go deep into his bench. Only a few garbage time buckets by the Wizards made this look closer than it actually was.

The Bucks return home to Fiserv Forum tonight to take on the Bulls, who also played on Tuesday evening (a 123-105 loss to the Hawks at the United Center). Tip is at 6:30pm Central.

Three Bucks

After his last attempt at a triple-double against Washington was infamously overturned, Giannis got it this time. Our man picked up his ninth assist midway through the third, already in double figures in points and rebounds. He sat out a few minutes for his typical mid-third blow and got his tenth in dramatic fashion with eight minutes left. First, he coughed up his dribble to Nunn, who had a fastbreak going the other way with no Bucks in sight. Naturally, we got a patented chase-down block:

While a trailing Corey Kispert did clean this up for a bucket, Giannis immediately found Holiday on the inbounds for a transition three. Boom, ten dimes. He looked very gassed after this and checked himself out at the next stoppage, but he came back for a brief stint a few minutes later. His final line was 28 on 9/16 shooting (10/17 at the line), 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. He attacked Washington’s very weak frontcourt relentlessly, who tried fouling him every chance they got in the first quarter before conceding defeat.

Bobby Portis had himself a night versus his former team. On a night where there wasn’t much to take away from, it looked like Portis found his stroke. Nice timing too, with the postseason approaching and his well-below-average 34.9% 3P% entering this matchup. He hit his first four three-point attempts and finished 5/9 for 19. He struggled with free throws a bit, but what an effort on the glass. He ended with 20 rebounds (five offensive), a number he only exceeded way back on November 5th. I will say that it looked like he was hunting rebounds: he very clearly and unnecessarily took one away from Brook Lopez in the closing minutes. It’s his 37th double-double of the year, which ranks eighth in the league.

Jae Crowder had his best scoring night since last May in his first start as a Buck. As mentioned, he came out of half like a man possessed, scoring 13 of his 19 in the third period. The first ten of that frame were his, coming on consecutive treys followed by two floaters and a fastbreak dunk, one that could have been Giannis’ had he not graciously handed it off to the hot hand. Yes, he missed a floater and a heat check three in there, but cripes, who saw this coming after he was scoreless in his last two games?

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Barely missing out on the above section is Holiday, who shook off a cold start to nearly finish with a triple-double of his own. His 26 points—including this emphatic slam—on 12/21 from the field came with 10 assists and 9 boards. He also finished a team-high +24 and threw one more down late for good measure.
  • Jevon Carter was questionable for this game with a left foot laceration (OUCH!) but was scratched 90 minutes before tip. Grayson Allen missed with the sprained right ankle he sustained on Sunday and Khris Middleton sat the front end of this back-to-back.
  • That put Crowder and Pat Connaughton in the starting lineup, but any hopes of the latter getting back on track were dashed after just six minutes. He came down on Anthony Gill’s foot going for an offensive rebound and exited with what was later reported as a right ankle sprain. After the game, Bud called him “doubtful for tomorrow” but they’re hoping it’s not serious.
  • After Allen’s sprain to the same body part on Sunday, the backcourt depth is a little thin. Pre-game, The Athletic’s Eric Nehm got this update on Allen, who Bud hopes will be ready for the start of the first round:
  • Lopez also had a nice game with 20 on 8/11 shooting and 4/7 from downtown to go with five blocks. One of those blocks came after a challenge overturned what would have been a blocking foul when he thwarted a charging Daniel Gafford’s dunk attempt by getting all-ball. Gafford may have missed it anyway, but kudos to Bud for trusting Splash Mountain on that one.
  • Nice to see Joe Ingles get back into a groove after a rough go last week. He hit four of his six attempts (all from three) to go with five assists and three boards. Yes, he threw a couple of bad passes as he often does, but he had a particularly impressive block on Nunn in soon after checking in.
  • Former Badger and La Crosse native Johnny Davis got off to a nice start, hitting a three and picking off a bad pass. Another steal a few minutes later led to a nasty fast-break dunk that posterized Holiday. He was decidedly more muted after that flourishing start but still finished with a career-high 20. As a Badger alum, I’m glad to see him capitalizing on this playing time he’s getting after being relegated deep onto Wes Unseld Jr.’s bench and the G League all year.
  • As mentioned, both teams were hitting their threes in the first half, but Milwaukee’s 14/22 mark blew Washington’s 6/11 total out of the water. In general, the Bucks’ enjoyed an outlier shooting game of their own after that debacle last Thursday to finish at 23/42. But man, the Wizards gave them all the room in the world. That doesn’t take away from how impressive this performance was. Still, though, that Washington defense... big yikes.
  • Here’s a little oddity: three travels were called in the first six minutes on both squads. Only two after that for the rest of the game, both on the Bucks. It was clear early on the officials weren’t letting anyone get away with questionable footwork.
  • Both teams struggled from the line in the first quarter, combining to go just 5/12. Surprisingly, Giannis only missed one of the Bucks 4/8, with Holiday missing one and Portis missing both for his one trip to the charity stripe.
  • As we’ve seen many times this year, turnovers were an issue to start for the Bucks, with ten in the first half. Four came from lost balls or bad passes. They weren’t a huge issue from the second on, but they finished with 18. Thankfully, even though Washington had half that number, Milwaukee capitalized on nearly all of them, so the home team only won the points off turnovers category 22-15.
  • Washington shot the three fantastically too at 48.1% on 27 looks. They tried to make up for it inside, where they held an impressive 74-50 edge in the paint. The math was too strongly in Milwaukee’s favor from distance, though.
  • The Wizards’ only real bigs last night were Gafford, whose early foul trouble (two in the opening minutes and his fourth just before half) limited him and newly-minted G League Defensive Player of the Year and two-way man Jay Huff. The 7’1” Virginia alum had a nice 9 and 6 in the first half on his way to establishing a career-best with 17 and 9. He even went 3/6 (including the first triple of his career) from outside after attempting just 100 across 56 G League games in two years and 166 in four years at UVA. He racked up five personals, though, so don’t call him Baby Lopez just yet.
  • The Connaughton injury led to early Goran Dragic and MarJon Beauchamp minutes. The former looked pretty bad, but the rook got quite the friendly bounce soon after checking in to start the second.
  • Kendrick Nunn (remember him?) was the high man for Washington with 24. He nailed his first five threes before missing his final try but generally looked good elsewhere with a 4/10 mark between the restricted area and arc.
  • Finally, Washington wore their cherry blossom uniforms and put out the matching court for this one, and though this opinion may be unpopular (I think I’m alone among the staff at least), I’m a fan. Replacing the red with pink just works, and while it’s kind of silly that they were wearing these as early as November, it’s peak cherry blossom time in DC currently, and from having seen said blossoms myself, they’re just delightful. I hope the Wizards stick with this theme moving forward.

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