The 6th seed Los Angeles Clippers were without Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly and playing in the toughest arena in the league. That was all you needed to know to guess who won this matchup. Khris Middleton bounced back in a big way and Giannis continued his chase for the MVP to bury the Clippers, 128-118. With 6 games remaining, Milwaukee is closing in on that top seed.
As most games do for the Bucks, this one started with a play drawn up by Coach Bud that aimed at getting Brook Lopez a three. This one worked perfectly and Lopez had a wide open corner three to get the scoring started. Like last game, Giannis picked up an early foul which can be alarming considering another foul could pull him out of the game. Giannis wasn’t worried about it and continued with his tough defense. A defensive stop led to a Giannis three, his first in a couple games, and Milwaukee found themselves up five just a few minutes into the first.
Landry Shamet hit a pair of threes in the first five minutes to regain the lead for the Clippers going into the first TV timeout. In these minutes alone, Los Angeles shot a perfect 4-4 from deep. Out of the timeout, Giannis found Bledsoe who found Sterling Brown with a behind-the-back pass for a layup that brought the crowd to their feet. This was Brown’s second straight start and he seemed to fit in well in place of an injured Malcolm Brogdon. Giannis attempted three threes in all in the first quarter but only hit one, a sign of aggression from the Freak.
DJ Wilson saw the floor towards the end of the first quarter along with Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova, and George Hill. With a banged up roster, these four have been essential in the last few weeks. Wilson hit his first three on the first offensive possession which assured that Milwaukee’s bench unit is one of the best in the league. Khris Middleton stayed in to run with the second unit after having a tough game on Tuesday and proved himself as an All-Star like he usually does. Khris went 4-7 with 9 points in the quarter to go with Giannis’ 11 points to hold the first quarter lead, 28-25.
The second quarter started slower than the first but the Bucks quickly made up for lost time and extended their lead behind a Giannis dunk and threes from Sterling and Khris. Doc Rivers wasn’t happy with the quick run and needed a timeout to regroup his team, now down ten. Doc Rivers is a legendary coach and a sure hall-of-famer so it was no surprise that the Clippers had a bit more energy out of the break. Luckily, Milwaukee has their own leader who can match any other coach play-for-play. Coach Bud made some quick adjustments and the players executed to push the lead back to double-digits with seven minutes remaining in the second.
Former NBA player and current analyst Ryan Hollins joined the Fox Sports Wisconsin broadcast in the first half when Marques Johnson stepped out and it became the talk of Twitter. Hollins is infamous in Wisconsin for his continuous backing of Harden for MVP in large part because he believes Giannis can’t close games. It remained a point of frustration for the fans of Milwaukee while Giannis was actively dominating the Clippers in every which way. The Bucks’ players must have heard Hollins at the media table because by the time he left the broadcast Milwaukee had a fifteen point lead with five minutes left before half.
After a couple of scoreless possessions for both teams, Giannis made a layup with the foul to increase the Bucks’ run to 11-0 and a game high eighteen point lead. While the offense was really clicking, it was Milwaukee’s defense in the second that created a significant lead in the first half. Los Angeles managed to score just 21 points in the quarter and took a 67-46 deficit into the locker room. Giannis was up to 23 points and Khris was at 15 on 7-10 shooting.
The Clippers came out of half with a new energy and scored on their first three possessions which is often the time when Coach Bud would call a timeout to figure things out. This time, he let his starters be and Lopez got a pair of free throws on the next possession. On the other end, Los Angeles got a wide open dunk early in the shot clock and Coach Bud’s timeout was finally called with just a fourteen point lead. It provided no immediate help as Milwaukee couldn’t find the bottom of the net and the Clippers heated back up.
If Los Angeles didn’t commit some awful turnovers and hit a couple of wide open looks the margin could have been much slimmer. Instead, the gave the Bucks enough time to recover and keep the lead above double-digits largely due to Milwaukee’s bench players making hustle plays. Connaughton hit a three with three minutes left in the third to bring the lead back up to seventeen and force a timeout from Doc Rivers once again.
After that timeout is when I really started to feel bad for Clippers fans. Khris improved to 12-16 from the field after hitting a corner three with a foul with just a minute left in the third. Los Angeles had their highest scoring quarter of the game thus far, but when Milwaukee’s two All-Stars are clicking like they were there isn’t much you can do to stop them. Giannis closed the quarter with his second three of the game and took a 100-77 lead into the final quarter.
The final period began with another corner three from Sterling Brown, a shot he is making over 52% of the time. It was the only shot made for Milwaukee in the first three minutes which allowed Los Angeles to get on an 8-0 run. The Bucks always strike back and the lead was back to seventeen before Giannis went down after an uncontested layup with apparent ankle discomfort. He exited the game with eight minutes remaining under his own power but with a big limp in his step. Needless to say, the air came out of Fiserv Forum and not a sound was made.
Giannis remained on the bench after the long stoppage in play which is hopefully a good sign. Milwaukee was going to have to close this one out without him which shouldn’t be an issue with the big lead. Just 60 seconds later, the lead was down to ten. With five minutes remaining, Giannis surprisingly went to the scorer’s table to presumably check-in. Seconds later, Brook Lopez stepped into a deep three and all seemed right again in Milwaukee.
Giannis did not check back in which was quite a relief to Bucks fans. He clearly could have played if needed but a thirteen point lead was enough for Coach Bud to tell him to sit down. Bledsoe showed Giannis why it was okay for him to take the rest of the night off by driving and dunking to force one final timeout for Doc. Khris shut the door on the Clippers in the final minutes and Milwaukee got one step closer to solidifying the best record in the league, winning 128-118.
Khris had his highest scoring night since 2017 tonight with a line of 39/9/5 on 16-24 shooting and 4-7 from deep.
Giannis had is own 34/9/5 on 10-18 from the field.
Sterling tied his career high with 15 points to match Bledsoe’s 15 while Brook had 12. As a team, Milwaukee had 53%/43% splits.
7 Clippers scored in double-digits led by rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who had 21. They had 46%/52% splits.
Milwaukee won their 4th game in a row and cut their magic number to two, the number of wins or Toronto losses required to clinch the best record in the NBA. Khris had a tough game against Houston a couple days ago but redeemed himself like he usually does. The scary part about this team is that it only takes one other guy to get going along with Giannis for it to be a very difficult game for the opponent. Even scarier, the opposing team never knows who it could be. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop Giannis so the game plan often shifts to his supporting cast. Tonight showed that while you can pick your poison, you can’t eliminate the threat. Outside of the outstanding nights from Khris and Giannis, Sterling was 3-6 from deep and Bledsoe and Lopez combined to go 9-19. When the Bucks’ get that kind of production from their starters they rarely lose. All of that and we still haven’t talked about the bench. While they didn’t score very much tonight, between the six players who came off the bench, only two turnovers were committed and one of them was from Tim Frazier in the closing second of the final quarter. This team remains a wagon and it seems only health can stop them now.
Milwaukee will hit the road to play Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday at 11:30 p.m. The last time the Bucks played that early was Christmas Day when they defeated the New York Knicks. With six games left in the regular season, Milwaukee needs to go just 3-3 to achieve the coveted 60-win season.