In what was an opportunity for redemption following a New Year’s Day collapse at home, the Milwaukee Bucks traveled to face the Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately, payback was not in the cards as the Bucks were blitzed in the second half on their way to a 130-142 defeat.
Yet the first half was not so doom and gloom. While the Pacers would secure an early lead behind strong early forward/big man play, Tyrese Haliburton had not yet heated up and added only three points and three assists. Milwaukee’s guards successfully did the heavy lifting to keep pace, combining for 23 points of their own with both teams proving that they (once again) had zero interest/capability in stringing together a dominating defense quarter. The Pacers would lead 31-33 after one, but hope remained.
Then, Milwaukee did themselves one better and secured a slight lead heading into halftime. While Giannis Antetokounmpo did a little of everything, this was the period in which uncoordinated grifting by Khris Middleton proved decisive. And the Bucks needed every ounce of the grift, because they started collapsing after Obi Toppin slammed home an uncontested putback dunk off a missed Myles Turner free throw with the game at 50-45. For the first time, but not last, time Brook Lopez had just... not tried to box out, and the next 90 seconds of in-game play by the Bucks was hard to watch. Turnovers (Khris literally just tripped and fell trying to receive a pass at one point), easy baskets at the rim for Indiana, you name it. A five point lead swung to a 53-53 stalemate before the Bucks stabilized through Middleton’s mixture of BS shotmaking, grinding out free throws by baiting young defenders, and a wide range of piss-and-vinegar basketball. It was beautiful. Bucks up 68-66 at the half.
So, with a lead and a brief second quarter scare, you’d figure head coach Adrian Griffin would light something of a fire in his guys. The Pacers are/were praying to punk the Bucks once again, but Milwaukee had a lead, had Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Damian Lillard hadn’t heated up just yet. Surely they’d come out prepared to grind out a grudge match on the road, right?
The second half started badly and continued to be bad barring a brief four or five minute stint with a small ball lineup in the fourth quarter. There were two concerning trends from Milwaukee worth pointing out:
1) Everything they tried defensively failed. High-court pressure of every Pacer, chaos switching, zone, doubles, whatever else Griffin could think up. Quite literally nothing worked.
2) At a certain point and with the game still in reach scoreboard-wise, the Pacers started stunting on Milwaukee. Alley-oops off the backboard, forcing turnovers that literally led to a four-on-none fast break for Indiana (thank God it just ended in a Buddy Hield layup and not an Instagram highlight), and Tyrese Haliburton losing his gourd after every shot he made (he made a lot). Meanwhile, the Bucks just... took it. Brook Lopez loudly complained about his grievances with officials and Damian Lillard tried trash talking with Benedict Mathurin, but that was it.
Indiana would register 47 third quarter points and a 97-113 lead after three. The only other thing to note was a Lillard/Beasley/AJJ/Middleton/Antetokounmpo lineup Griffin went to late which finally had Indiana a little out of sorts. Pulling Lopez enabled the small ball Bucks to keep adequate pace on defense, although there weren’t nearly enough stops to make up the final 10 point difference with roughly four minutes to go. Victory cigar lineups were let loose with two minutes on the clock, and the Bucks lose 130-142.
What Did We Learn?
Adrian Griffin will need to do a significant amount of rotation tinkering in the back half of the regular season to uncover solid small-ball lineups he can go to. Brook Lopez was under attack from every angle all night long because the Bucks perimeter defense was that bad/Indiana’s guards are that good relative to their assignments. The strain of trying to save the entire defense on his own clearly showed on Lopez, and it was only when Andre Jackson Jr. got some run late that Milwaukee staunched the stunting-induced bleeding.
Yes, we can hope Jae Crowder’s impending return will help solve some of this, but it doesn’t hurt to kick the tires on other iterations in the meantime in case Jae is a step or two when back. AJJ should continue getting looks in his stead.
Three Video Reviews
My count is probably off, but I’m quite sure there were three video reviews by the refs in the fourth quarter. Two off of coaches challenges and a third to determine guilt in an AJJ-Obi Toppin scuffle. In a game in which the refs decided to hand out 52 fouls between the teams, it made watching a physically draining experience. Not only were the Bucks getting rag dolled, but we had to add an additional 15 minutes of standing around time. A horrible combination.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Pat Connaughton is going to have a kid, per an Instagram announcement of his girlfriend. Congrats and well wishes to them both.
- While the Bucks were scrapping to make a game of it late, AJJ skied for an offensive rebound, touched the rim, and landed on Giannis’s back. Giannis held him up and Andre T-Posed like it was a synchronized dance move. Beauty in motion.
- Fresh off Kyle making the case that some more MarJon Beauchamp/AJJ minutes may not be a bad thing, both young guys ran together for brief periods last night. I don’t recall those minutes as being truly dominant, but I’ll log it as further evidence that Griffin & Co. are avid BH readers.
- Damian Lillard is now 12 of 45 from three in his last five games. He was thoroughly unimpressive on his way to a 23 point, 5 assist night.
- Adrian Griffin logged himself another technical after protesting what he thought was a Pacers foul that the refs let go in favor of a turnover and fast break. The guy is willing to get in refs faces, of that there can be no doubt.
Milwaukee continues their campaign tonight on the road in San Antonio.