The league’s best team did what the league’s best team should do. They rolled out all of their starters despite short rest and found a way to take down a sneaky but tanking New Orleans Pelicans. After a tough loss on Saturday night in Texas, the Bucks traveled a few hundred miles East to try and avoid losing back-to-back games for the second time in the past two weeks. Behind team leaders Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the Bucks put on a second half offensive performance of the season to take the life out of New Orleans and come out with a win, 130-113.

Anthony “The Brow” Davis was active and starting for the Pelicans for this game despite his reduced minutes and day-to-day status. Brook Lopez got the scoring started with a layup over Davis early in the first. Eric Bledsoe was aggressive to start the game offensively and defensively which has consistently been a good sign for him. As a result the Pelicans turned the ball over three times in the first three minutes. These mistakes didn’t turn into points for Milwaukee and forced a timeout from Coach Bud, down 13-8 just five minutes in.

The Bucks’ offense continued to look out of sorts and when they did find good looks they couldn’t hit from anywhere. Luckily, New Orleans wasn’t much better and couldn’t build a significant lead on a struggling Bucks team, leading 19-12. Nikola Mirotic scored his first basket against his old squad with three minutes left in the first quarter to bring Milwaukee back within three. A couple of possessions later, Niko ball-faked former Buck Jason Smith and got an easy layup to get back within one. Smith was playing in his first minutes since becoming a Pelican more than a month ago. Shooting only 33% in the first quarter, Milwaukee tied it up at 23.

Pat Connaughton took the lead back for the Bucks with a dunk to start the second quarter. Both offenses shot much better and the score teetered back and forth with a lot more excitement than the first twelve minutes. Eight different Bucks had already scored in this game including four off the bench. Julius Randle was the only Pelican player who had any sort of consistency scoring through a quarter and a half. Bledsoe finally saw his first shot go in after missing his first 6. A layup with a foul put Milwaukee up one with 6:56 remaining in the first half.

Consecutive threes from Khris Middleton and Donte DiVincenzo gave the Bucks their largest lead of the night at six points and things were starting to click on both sides for the away team. New Orleans continued to struggle with their outside shooting and Milwaukee wasn’t giving up many offensive rebounds. Giannis picked up three fouls towards the end of the second quarter so he wasn’t much of a factor thus far. Going into the locker room, Milwaukee led 56-48 on 43% shooting compared to the Pelicans 33%. Lopez was the only Buck in double-digit scoring with 10 points on 4-8 shooting.

Khris got his first three of the second half to go and Milwaukee had their first double-digit lead of the game less than a minute into the third quarter. Giannis picked up his fourth foul shortly after on an Anthony Davis shot attempt but remained in the game for the time being. The energy for the Bucks continued to remain high despite playing in their third game in the last four days without any players taking a rest for this one. A Brogdon steal led to a Giannis layup to build the lead to 75-58 with eight minutes left in the quarter and New Orleans took a timeout to stop the momentum.

That didn’t work. Milwaukee continued their reign of terror on the offensive side and the Pelicans didn’t seem to have an answer. By the next timeout with 4:45 left in the third quarter, the Bucks had already scored 33 points in the quarter. The offense refused to stop for both teams or the defense refused to show up, depending on the way you look at it. Either way, each team nearly doubled their first half totals in the third quarter alone and the Bucks led 101-89. Milwaukee’s five starters + Mirotic were in double-digits through three and Davis was up to 21to lead New Orleans.

Tony Snell slammed his second dunk of the night to kick off the final period. Then, a switch flipped for the Bucks and they suddenly forgot how to play basketball. For the next two minutes, the Pelicans went on a 6-0 run on off an airball and a lazy turnover that led to a Budenholzer timeout. Giannis was called upon out of the break and found a spot in the lane for a short jumper to get the lead back to ten. He proceeded to dominate both sides of the floor and helped push the lead to fifteen with seven minutes remaining in the game.

Milwaukee kept the lead at fifteen or greater behind for the next five minutes behind increased three point shooting and patience on the offensive side. A couple of threes from New Orleans threatened the Bucks comfort with two minutes remaining but they weren’t able to score quick enough to warrant any real worry and the game was closed out without much excitement. Milwaukee defeated New Orleans, 130-113.

Giannis finished with 24/9/5 on 7-13 from the field and another perfect 10-10 from the free throw line.

Khris was close behind with 23/5/7 on 9-18 shooting and 2-6 from deep.

Malcolm Brogdon had a great performance with 18/1/2 on 7-10 shooting.

No starter for the Bucks shot below 50% from the field, and unbelievable accomplishment.

Julius Randle led the Pelicans with 23/6/4 on 10-19 shooting. Anthony Davis finished with 21/12/2 despite not playing in the fourth quarter. New Orleans shot 43% from the field and just 22% from deep.

The Pelicans are an actively tanking team and after a tough stretch of games for Milwaukee this felt like a game they needed in order to keep their lead ahead of second place Toronto. The first half was uncharacteristic of the Bucks’ offense but their defense remained strong for a majority of the game. That’s been the biggest reason for most wins this year. It starts with the defense and that’s the way Coach Bud teaches it. If you’re defense plays at a high level then no game will be out of reach. That proved true especially in the first quarter. With a defense like this and performances from the starters at a level near what it was in New Orleans, the Bucks are poised to have a strong finish to the season.

The Bucks improve to 51-17 on the season and three games ahead of Toronto. They travel to Miami to take on the pesky defense of the Heat and possibly Dwayne Wade’s final game against Milwaukee. Tip is at 7:00 p.m.