The Milwaukee Bucks were finishing up their road trip in Houston to take on the Rockets. The Bucks defeated Houston the first time these two teams played, but Milwaukee would need to prepare for a tough battle and unfortunately came up short.
Giannis Antetokounmpo came out with eight quick-fire points, but the Rockets got hot at the end of the quarter to take and extend the lead to 29-18 after one. Milwaukee was able to start the second quarter with a 9-0 run to get back into it, but the Rockets got a quick six points to build their advantage back and force Milwaukee into a timeout. Milwaukee responded well after the timeout, but Houston again increased the lead halfway through the second quarter. Things worsened as the Bucks trailed by 20 heading into halftime.
The Bucks came out in the third quarter looking to make amends and started the half with a 10-3 run to force a Houston timeout. Jeff Green's corner threes allowed Houston to withstand Milwaukee’s push. As Giannis hit the bench, the Rockets took advantage of a small Milwaukee lineup as the Bucks went the last three minutes of the third quarter not making a field goal, and Houston led 89-73. Giannis again led an early fourth-quarter charge to get Milwaukee’s deficit down to single digits. The Bucks huffed and puffed, but they dug themselves too much in a hole and saw them lose 108-112.
The Bucks now head back to Wisconsin and face the Utah Jazz on Monday
What Did We Learn?
Marques Johnson said on the broadcast that the Bucks’ energy was around a six. That is being generous in the first half, as Milwaukee wasn’t even looking bothered most of the half. No offensive rebounds and a lack of transition defense; these are things we have seen multiple times this season, but that doesn’t mean it is any less frustrating. Joe Prunty also said during his halftime interview how the team needed to bring it more on the offensive side. Andre Jackson Jr. was brought in to start the third quarter to try and give that unit a boost. This did seem to be a gamble that worked out, and Giannis came out energized in the third quarter and carried that in the fourth, but the Bucks allowed too many second-chance points. Maybe this will be a turning point, but we did get some candid comments from Giannis.
In the Bucks locker room after the game, both Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo harped on the Bucks' effort defensively.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) January 7, 2024
It was an impassioned post-game session from Antetokounmpo.
Here was Antetokounmpo's response to my question about the defense: pic.twitter.com/95kLTnTs9F
The Bucks’ bench is again disappointing
Most of what plagued Milwaukee in the first half was the bench performance. Houston’s bench outscored Milwaukee’s 22-9 in the first half. Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton had a few baskets. Cam Payne didn’t offer anything and only played eight minutes; MarJon Beauchamp salvaged his game thanks to a spark he provided in the fourth quarter. Andre Jackson Jr. did well too, despite being matched up with Sengun and picking up three fouls. AJ Green had a short stint. Looking at Houston’s bench, you saw how each option contributes. Jeff Green scored fourteen points and made some important threes as Milwaukee made a charge. Aaron Holiday and Cam Whitmore combined for 23 points and shot 4/6 from three.
Giannis continues his MVP case
This isn’t anything surprising or new, but tonight’s game was a good reminder. The +/- for Giannis isn’t doing him wonders, as he was part of the lineups at the end of the first and second quarter that saw Houston make runs to extend their leads. But the second half saw Giannis take control and attack Houston constantly. His efforts got Milwaukee back into the game, ending it with 48 points and 17 rebounds. He didn’t get much help from Dame and Khris for most of the game, and Milwaukee jumped on his back, but his comeback fell short.
Damian Lillard struggled all night
This was a night to forget for Dame. During halftime, there was a highlight reel of Houston attacking the rim, and each time, it was a Rocket player blowing past Lillard. Yes, Lillard is not a good defender, but seeing him get left in the dust was frustrating. Lillard didn’t shoot well from three and seemed disconnected from the game. Part of that was Giannis effectively leading the charge, but when Milwaukee could have stolen the game, Lillard couldn’t provide any Dame Time.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The Rockets court logo and jerseys were really nice.
- The Bucks scored 43 points in the first half. That was the lowest amount in any half for Milwaukee this season.
- As mentioned, Andre Jackson Jr. started the third quarter for Milwaukee in place of Malik Beasley. Ajax played all but the final two minutes in that frame, but didn’t appear at all in the fourth.
- Beauchamp was Adrian Griffin’s choice to join the closing lineup alongside the core four starters, and he led the bench with 23 minutes.
- Houston’s bench scored 43 points, Milwaukee only scored 22.