A new season with championship aspirations for the city of Milwaukee began on the road Thursday night in Houston, Texas. The Bucks debuted their updated roster in front of a semi-filled Toyota Center crowd and pulled out a late win, 117-11 to foil the Rockets’ own player debut of Russell Westbrook.
The Bucks needed all 48 minutes of the game to complete their comeback. In a game in which Milwaukee trailed by as much as 16 and double-digits for a large portion of the game, they found a way to disrupt Houston’s offensive flow and decimate their defense down the stretch to close the gap in crunch time.
The first half Bucks were a completely different team then the second half team we saw on the court. Fouls were being called left and right, wide open looks consistently fell off the rim, and the perimeter defense wasn’t slowing down a streaking Rockets squad.
The shooting percentages tell the whole story. In the first 24 minutes of the 2019-2020 season, Milwaukee shot 43% from the field and 33% from deep while Houston posted 47%/52%, respectively. Along with the shooting woes, the chemistry was off, just as you’d expect a team with a few new players that are getting major minutes.
Once the second half started, Giannis emerged from the offseason funk that was plaguing his team. While trying to avoid more foul trouble, Antetokounmpo led a barreling comeback that ultimately began with a transition block the Freak had on James Harden in transition. The Bucks still struggled to shoot during the third quarter, but the deficit was down to nine entering the fourth.
Giannis continued his dominance with a catch-and-spin dribble-drive layup to begin the final period. On the following defensive possession, Giannis picked up his fifth foul of the game. Head Coach Mike Budenholzer elected to leave his team captain in at the risk of fouling out in a tight game.
The fourth quarter comeback continued for the Bucks, assisted by 12 straight missed threes from Houston. Milwaukee took their first lead of the game with eight and a half minutes remaining. The lead flip flopped for another two or so minutes until Brook Lopez hit his first shots of the game and Khris Middleton found his stroke.
Antetokounmpo fouled out with 5:18 left in the game and a six-point lead which turned out to be enough. A combination of Brook, Khris, and a an incredible second half from Ersan Ilyasova led Milwaukee to a win to begin their championship campaign.
The Bucks certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves. Their final shooting numbers were a little last season’s averages, going 47% from the field and 35% from deep and honestly, these numbers were saved by the fourth quarter shooting from the hot hands. Along with going 9-18 from the free throw line, Milwaukee will count their lucky stars that they start the season on a high note.
Leading the stat charts, Giannis finished with a line of 30/13/11 with only 3 TOs in 28 minutes. The reigning MVP even went 2-5 from deep, but will look to improve on his 6-11 showing from the free throw line. This was also Antetokounmpo’s 15th career triple-double and obviously his first of this season. In the 2018-2019 season, Giannis had a total of five triple-doubles. I think this shows how much the Freak is ready to prove Milwaukee isn’t taking a step back after last year’s playoff debacle.
Two starters who pulled the Bucks down on the offensive end a majority of the game were Middleton and Bledsoe, who combined to shoot 8-28 from the field, given Bledsoe is playing on limited minutes due to his rib injury. You can’t expect this type of performance from two elite NBA players to repeat itself very often.
Listen, it was just the first game and people are certainly going to say that you can’t make any judgements based on this game alone, but I think this win means something. Milwaukee looked awful for most of the game. The shooters on the team were getting the looks intended buck couldn’t capitalize and the energy was just kind of low. Once the Bucks found some success on the offensive end and Houston missed a few shots in a row, they didn’t stop their momentum until the final buzzer sounded. That’s what winning teams do and that’s the type of team we should expect to see all season.
The Bucks will roll into their first home game of the season undefeated. Milwaukee will host the Miami Heat (1-0) this Saturday. Tip off is at 4:00 p.m.