The Phoenix Suns were one of just three teams in the entire NBA that the Milwaukee Bucks hadn’t beaten at least once this season. So far 0-1, Milwaukee had their chance for revenge following a loss at Utah on Saturday. Uncharacteristically, the Bucks couldn’t figure out their offense for the second game in a row and they dropped back-to-back games for the first time in a row all season, losing 114-105 Monday night.
Milwaukee’s starters were all healthy again for this one. Eric Bledsoe started the game with a dish to Giannis for an and-1 dunk and we were underway in Phoenix. The Suns are one of the worst teams in the league in points allowed in the paint so this was set up to be a potential big game for Giannis. The starters + Nikola Mirotic built an early lead by the halfway point in the first quarter, up 22-16 at the second timeout. Each player who had entered the game for the Bucks thus far had scored a basket. In Brook Lopez’s last game against Phoenix he went 0-12 from deep so to see him hit his first one tonight was a good sign for Bucks’ fans.
Pau Gasol had time to practice Sunday and Monday with the team and checked in for the first time as a Buck with 2:07 left in the first quarter. Gasol’s first stat of the game was an assist to Tony Snell for three followed by a rebound on the other end. Milwaukee closed the quarter with lock down defense and held a 31-20 lead after the first. Lopez, Brogdon, and Snell each had 5 points. Giannis and Ersan Ilyasova had 4 each. The Bucks shot 45.5% from three on 11 attempts in the quarter.
Pau was on the floor for the start of the second quarter to get more minutes in a game that Milwaukee is assumed to win handily. He definitely doesn’t have the skill set he used to but he showed he was still a capable big body who had a high basketball IQ. Another Lopez three with 8:31 remaining in the second forced the Suns to call a timeout, down 16.
Phoenix came out more aggressive and they were able to shave the lead to 10 with 5 minutes left before half. Coach Bud called a timeout to regroup because the offense wasn’t getting many good looks in the paint. Bud made a play for Mirotic out of the timeout and he promptly hit the open three. The Bucks didn’t get much more going after that and a once 16 point lead was down to just 2 at half, 54-52 Bucks. Giannis led Milwaukee with 11/6/4 followed by a three-way tie with 8 points for Lopez, Mirotic, and Ilyasova. Kelly Oubre Jr. was up to 11 points at half on 5-9 from the floor. The Suns outshot the Bucks in the first half, 48.9% to 39.2%.
Devin Booker tied the game up for the first time since it was 0-0 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, 55-55. Giannis changed that on the next possession with an and-1 layup. This was the first bucket in the paint for Milwaukee in the half. Phoenix had locked up the lane and blocked multiple layup attempts. Offense remained absent in this quarter and a timeout with 6:10 left in the third left Milwaukee up 63-61. Keep in mind, Milwaukee had 31 after the first quarter. This wasn’t a game the Bucks should break their never-lose-to-the-same-team-twice or back-to-back streaks.
Both teams came out of the timeout in the bonus and a lot of free throws followed. The score flip flopped for much of the rest of the quarter. Coach Bud had enough of the poor play when the Suns got up 70-67 with 3 minutes to go. While Milwaukee’s defense had held the Suns to about their average, the offense had completely fallen off. This used to be a problem for the old Bucks, but this season it has rarely been seen in the third quarter.
Snell tied it up after the timeout with another three. Pat Connaughton checked in to give Milwaukee that added energy he gives every night. Both offenses picked up and the Bucks regained their lead on an Ersan three with less than two minutes in the third. A couple of big shots from Malcolm Brogdon and Milwaukee had built up a small lead going into the final quarter, 82-76.
Giannis got the scoring started in the final period on a put back layup for Milwaukee’s largest lead since the first half. The officials were fairly touchy on fouls all game and that absolutely continued in the fourth quarter. It was a big reason Phoenix was able to score the first few minutes and stay within striking distance. They had it down to 6 with 7 minutes remaining when Mirotic broke a cold streak and hit another deep three. The Suns still came back with a bucket and Bud wanted a timeout to talk over the remainder of the game.
Shots from Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton closed the deficit and Bud called another timeout before a pair of free throws by the Suns that could potentially tie it up. The first real pressure of the game set in for Milwaukee with 4 minutes left on the road. Kelly Oubre Jr. hit one of his two free throws and a couple possessions later yet another timeout was called with 3:25 remaining, Suns down 1.
Devin Booker put the Suns up on a pull up three but Giannis tied it up on the other end seconds later with a dunk. Eric Bledsoe picked up his energy on the other end and didn’t allow Booker to get the ball back but it didn’t matter and Oubre Jr. hit a corner three over Khris Middleton. Giannis got to the line with 1:26 left for a couple of free throws to try and make it a one point game. Giannis missed both but the ball was kicked out to Brogdon for a three to tie it up. A Tyler Johnson layup put the Suns back on top and Bledsoe missed a quick three on the other end. Ayton got a layup to go and Phoenix was up 107-103 with 36 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Giannis inbounded the ball to Lopez and had it picked by Oubre Jr. That was pretty much the game. A few free throws later and the Suns came out on top over the Bucks, 114-105.
Giannis finished with 21/13/6 on 8-14 shooting but just 5-10 on free throws.
Malcolm Brogdon had an efficient night 19 points on 7-12 from the field and 3-4 from deep.
However, the combination of Lopez, Bledsoe, Middleton, and Mirotic were a terrible 6-32 from deep and that’s pretty much the game.
Kelly Oubre Jr. had 27 points followed by Booker with 22 and Ayton with 19.
This was the first time all season that the Milwaukee Bucks have lost back-to-back games as well as twice to the same team. It was also against the team with the worst record in the NBA. This was a completely unprecedented loss for Milwaukee and luckily they have a couple days off and are going back to Fiserv where they can work out their issues.
The performances from everyone but Giannis and Brogdon were well below their average level of contribution and the Bucks will have trouble beating anyone when they are out shot, out rebounded, and commit more turnovers than their opponent. These are all staples of Milwaukee’s season and to move away from that will affect the rhythm that has brought them to the top of the league. Milwaukee will play at home Thursday against Indiana. Hopefully we can get back on track and have a less frustrating weekend.