The Bucks dropped a tough overtime game yesterday in Milwaukee and were tasked with traveling to Brooklyn for a game the following day. Despite the Nets’ four game winning streak and a plethora of injuries, the Bucks found a way to get it done on Brook Lopez’s birthday. D’angelo Russel kept it close down the stretch but the more complete opposing team put it together to win by double-digits yet again, 131-121.
Along with the usual injuries, Ersan Ilyasova and Khris Middleton were unavailable for the game but a couple players that didn’t play yesterday did today. The starting lineup comprised of Giannis, Bledsoe, Brown, Connaughton, and Lopez, much closer to normal. This matchup with Brooklyn means more to Brook Lopez than the other players because he currently holds the top scoring spot in Nets history, not to mention it was his birthday as well. He won the tip like he always does and the fifth to last game of the regular season was underway.
The first few possessions were sloppy for both teams and Coach Bud even called a timeout to secure a possession for the Bucks on a loose ball recovery. The scoring started on an assist from Giannis to Sterling Brown for an and-1 layup and Lopez hit a deep three to follow. Bledsoe got hot shortly after with a driving floater and a pull up three. After his off day yesterday he was expected to have fresh legs and be ready to take over a larger scoring role with Khris out for the game. He knew he was going to have his hands full defending breakout guard D’angelo Russell.
The Nets’ prized big man Jarrett Allen had an immediate impact on the game when he made Giannis double-pump on a missed layup. Allen has been know to get a hand on some of the best dunkers in the NBA including Giannis. Giannis fired back with a block of Allen’s shot in the paint on the following possession and the Bucks found themselves up eight through the first five minutes. Brooklyn Coach Kenny Atkinson took a timeout to regroup his guys. They only played two defensive possessions before calling another timeout within 60 seconds of the last one due to two easy layups for Milwaukee. It was another hot start for the Bucks.
The lead got as high as sixteen for Milwaukee off of a 15-1 run in the middle minutes of the first quarter. Brooklyn had a few good defensive possessions and even scored on a few on offense but the Bucks shot back and pushed the lead to 22 with two minutes to go. Brooklyn found the bottom of the net a couple more times but trailed 35-20 after twelve minutes. Sterling was already up to 10 points on a perfect 4-4 from the field and Bledsoe had 9 on 4-6.
The second quarter started very similar to the first in that neither team could get a bucket. The first two minutes were scoreless except for a single free throw from Brooklyn. Then the Nets started to see a few fall. Russell got an and-1 to go followed by a three from noted Bucks killer Caris LeVert and the lead was down to ten just like that. Coach Bud finally called a timeout after a three from Russell shrunk the gap to six with eight minutes left in the half off of an 11-2 run.
Going back to the first quarter into the second, the Nets were on a 22-2 run with five forced turnovers on the Bucks. Finally George Hill got a layup to go to get the lead back to two possessions. Still, this marked back-to-back nights that the Bucks let a big first quarter lead slip in the second. That’s not something you want when you’re the number one seed in the entire NBA with just a few games left. Brooklyn took their first lead of the game with six minutes left before half, up 42-41. Coach Bud took a timeout presumably to get in his player’s ears about the lack of effort the last 8+ minutes.
George Hill hit a cutting layup out of the timeout to regain the lead followed by a transition jam from Connaughton that took the wind out of the crowd. Giannis got his first and-1 of the game to go and the lead started to build once again. One thing that became very evident in the quarter was that the officials were going to make most of their calls in favor of the home squad and that was a reality Milwaukee had to deal with. The lead got as high as ten again and the Bucks held a 59-54 going into the locker room. Bledsoe had 14 points, Giannis had 10, and Sterling had 10 at the half.
Giannis missed his first two shots in the paint to start the second half and looked visibly frustrated himself. This had been a good sign for Bucks fans usually as Giannis likes to play angry. Bledsoe got a layup to go but Russell hit a floater then stole the inbound pass which led to a Brooklyn three. Jarrett Allen got a runner to go and the game was tied at 61. The next three minutes of the game were unbelievably sloppy. It seemed that two out of every three possessions each team would turn it over in an abnormal way, whether it be a no look pass or poor footwork. Coach Bud eventually took a timeout with seven minutes left in the third, down one.
Out of the break, the officials continued their awful game by changing an obvious foul call on Allen to a jump ball a few seconds later. With the offensive struggles Milwaukee was having, these types of plays added a lot of frustration to the team. On the following play, Giannis picked up his fourth foul and had to sit out with six minutes left in the quarter. The Bucks were going to need to find a way to build a lead without their leader on the court.
There was a lot of lead switching in the third quarter. Neither team could get a lead greater than three before the other would come back and take the lead themselves. Tim Frazier was in at point for a portion of the quarter and looked much more out of place than he did the day before. The Bucks hadn’t clicked since the first quarter and the continuation of the slump didn’t allow them to pull away from an equally struggling Brooklyn squad. Giannis entered again with two minutes left in the quarter and had been just 4-14 from the floor to this point. The guards picked him up in the closing minutes and grabbed a 91-89 lead with twelve minutes remaining in the game.
Giannis started the final period with a mid-range jumper and the lead was back to two possessions. Milwaukee scored on each of their first three possessions and got the lead up to seven just a minute into the fourth quarter. Giannis got another and-1 to go shortly after and Atkinson called an early timeout. The league leader in three point percentage Joe Harris hit a three out of the timeout followed by a corner three from Caris LeVert and Coach Bud called a timeout of his own, still with over ten minutes left in the game.
With a four point lead, Coach Bud rolled out a lineup consisting of four guys under 6’3″ and Brook Lopez. While it appeared to be a risky move, Bledsoe hit a three and Hill got an and-1 to go. It goes to show, trust in Budenholzer. The lead got as high as eleven before Allen started to take advantage of the paint and Giannis checked back in with a six point lead and six minutes to play. George Hill was red hot in the paint and seemed to be a point of emphasis in the Bucks’ offensive system without Giannis.
LeVert hit a three and the lead was down to four when Giannis decided it was time for his first three point attempt of the game when he was having an off night. Because Giannis is the potential MVP, he of course made it and, as an encore, slammed one down to push the lead to nine once again. To Brooklyn’s credit, they refused to back down. With the help of the home crowd, they continued with their high energy defense and aggressive offense that made it no picnic for Milwaukee. The final TV timeout of the game was called with just over two minutes to go and the Bucks leading by six.
Lopez drove to the hoop on the next offensive possession and had an impressive two handed reverse layup followed by a block on the other end to regain possession. The next trip down the court, Giannis had one of the most dominant possessions I’ve ever seen. After a missed jumper, he got his own rebound and powered through three Nets to increase the lead to ten with a minute left. It proved to be enough as Milwaukee closed this one out 131-121.
Eric Bledsoe led the Bucks with 29/5/7/5 steals and +21 in 33 minutes.
Giannis finished with 28/11/2 on 9-23 shooting, very below his average percentage.
George Hill had a night with 22/2/3 on an impressive 8-11 shooting without a three.
Milwaukee dropped a tough one yesterday afternoon and were tasked with traveling and playing a game on the East coast within 30 hours and a greatly shortened lineup. This one was a roller coaster of a game but ultimately the Bucks had enough play makers to put away the Nets in their own arena. Carroll, LeVert, and Russell combined for 72 of the 121 points for Brooklyn but Russell was the only one who was able to keep the game close in the closing minutes aside from a couple of wide open threes from Joe Harris. Milwaukee’s defense closed it out with ease, all they need was a decent lead and once they had that it was over. This was also an important matchup for both teams as they are potential first round opponents. Milwaukee is one win or one Toronto loss in the final four games from securing the top seed throughout the playoffs. Brooklyn currently sits a half game up on the Heat for the eighth seed. The Nets wanted to prove that they could defend their home court and even when the Bucks didn’t have Brogdon, Middleton, Snell, Mirotic, etc., they couldn’t get it done.
The Bucks improve to 58-20 on the season and their magic number is now one. They get a couple of days off before traveling to Philadelphia on Thursday for a 7:00 p.m. game. The season series currently sits at 1-1 going into the final meeting.