The Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers have the #1 and #2 ranked defenses in the league, respectively. They are also two of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference. Needless to say, this was a big game for a Bucks team that was on their first losing streak of the season. After a tough performance on Monday, the extra rest day gave Milwaukee new energy and the win, 117-98 behind big night’s from All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Brook Lopez got the scoring started with a three in the first 20 seconds of the game. It’s always a good sign to see an early three go in for him with some of the struggles he has had over the course of the season. Eric Bledsoe set the tone on the defensive side with full court pressure and forced a couple of mistakes on the perimeter. Add to that a driving layup with another three from Lopez and one from Khris Middleton and the Bucks were up early 13-5 to force a timeout from Indiana.
Bledsoe got into early foul trouble and Giannis wasn’t effective on the offensive end early so the margin remained slim. A couple of turnovers created a 7-0 run for the Pacers and they held their first lead at 18-17 with 5:49 left in the first. Middleton hit a three from the top of the key on the next possession to retake the lead for the remainder of the quarter. Behind Milwaukee’s 6-10 shooting from three in the first quarter, the Bucks led 32-24. Middleton led the Bucks with 11 points on 3-4 from deep followed by Lopez with 8 on 2-2 from three. Myles Turner was the biggest threat from Indiana. He had 10 points in the first quarter and 5 rebounds with a pair of threes.
Pau Gasol made his Fiserv Forum debut and began the second quarter with three consecutive defensive rebounds. However, the offense started slow and Donte DiVincenzo got his first minutes after coming back from an injury that held him out since New Year’s Day. He didn’t make any direct contribution, but Milwaukee quickly extended their lead to it’s largest at 11 after Giannis hit his first three attempt. The Bucks also entered into the bonus with over 8 minutes left in the half which gave them an opportunity to extend the lead further.
Turner remained the biggest deep threat for the Pacers and was 3-7 from three when he cut the lead to 10 with 4 minutes to go in the half. An 8-0 run capped by a three from Bojan Bogdanovic forced a timeout from Coach Bud with the lead down to 5. The Pacers kept applying pressure and only allowed Milwaukee to score 22 points in the second quarter to hold the score at 54-50, Bucks. Giannis took the lead in scoring with 13 points on a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line. Khris entered the locker room with 12 points but like Giannis, had a team high three turnovers. Turner led the Pacers with 13 points. All 10 players that entered for Indiana in the first half scored.
Wesley Matthews began the second half with a jumper followed by a quick three to take an early lead. Lopez quickly got it back on a put back layup off of a Giannis three attempt. Milwaukee continued to look more aggressive on the offensive end and in transition than the first half. They were rewarded with forced turnovers and extra possessions that resulted in trips to the free throw line. The Bucks weren’t able to convert on enough of those opportunities and only led 67-61 with 6:32 left in the third.
Out of the timeout, Giannis was rejected at the rim by Myles Turner. He wasn’t happy about it and received a technical foul after jawing at the official up and down the court. He made sure there was no question on the next trip and jammed it with authority for just his third and fourth points in the paint on the night. This sparked a 7-0 run from Milwaukee and a timeout from Indiana. The Bucks extended the run to 13 straight points before the Pacers finally hit a shot, now down 14. Indiana didn’t make much progress, and Milwaukee held an 84-72 lead after three. Middleton got up to 23 points on 7-13 shooting and Giannis was pushing towards his average with 17/9/4.
The Bucks had no plans to give away their third straight game. An 8-0 run at the beginning of the final quarter forced a timeout from Indiana, now down 18. Tony Snell added to the Pacers’ pain by crossing over Bogdanovic for a layup and igniting the crowd in a game that had turned into a blowout. Khris Middleton was unarguably the hottest shooter of the night, sealing the deal on that with an and-1 three to put the lead at 20. Giannis had an all out dunk party in the fourth quarter to suffocate the Pacers and send them home with a loss, 117-98.
Giannis finished with a casual 29/12/5 on 10-17 from the floor.
Middleton was close behind with 27 points and 3 steals.
Lopez, Bledsoe, and Brogdon combined for 32 points on 14-27 shooting. Milwaukee shot 50% from the field and 40% from three as a team.
Myles Turner led Indiana with 22/17/3. 5 players scored in double digits for the Pacers. As a team, they shot 38.9% from the floor and 37.8% from deep.
The Bucks quickly ended their first losing streak of the season while also winning the season series with Indiana, 3-1. They improved their league best record to 49-16 and best home record to 26-5. Indiana fell to 42-24 and just a half game lead over the 76ers for the third seed in the East.
When Giannis got T’d up, the game completely changed. Up until that point, it was a low energy contest where neither team was taking control of a very winnable game. We know Giannis doesn’t get that upset at a call all that often so when he does you can assume he’s right. The players of Milwaukee seemed to agree and played with a new intensity that put the game away. Giannis returned to his elite form and worked Coach Bud’s offense to perfection by driving for dunks and kicking for a shower of threes. With no Victor Oladipo, Indiana had no one they could turn to in order to keep the game close. After shooting just 1-13 on Monday in Phoenix, Khris was back to his All-Star form and when him and Giannis play like they did in this game it’s going to be difficult to win in Fiserv Forum.
Milwaukee continues their home stretch on Saturday against the Charlotte Hornets at 8:00 p.m.