It felt like we haven’t seen Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks play in weeks and their return to our televisions didn’t disappoint. While there was still clearly a lack of focus and execution following the three-day break, the Bucks defended Fiserv Forum against the division rival Chicago Bulls, winning 124-115.
This was probably the least conventional game of the season thus far for Milwaukee and I’d have to guess it would be close for the Bulls as well. For starters, the Bucks were without Khris Middleton who suffered a leg contusion in their game Sunday at Oklahoma City. Without Khris, Milwaukee found themselves in a world of hurt. Chicago went off from beyond the arc, finishing with 18 threes on 42% shooting led by rookie Coby White with six threes. White’s three-point total matched the entire Milwaukee team for the game (6-33).
Keeping with the theme of unconventionality, the two teams combined for 49 turnovers and 51 personal fouls. The pace was up and down and shifted drastically, often resulting in a number of turnovers in a short amount of time. Neither team was able to put together enough momentum to take a commanding lead at any point in the game.
Despite the high percentage of threes the Bulls were sinking and the sloppy play from a lot of the young guys, Milwaukee found a few guys in the lineup that were ready to take on the challenge. Of course, the charge was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 38/16/4 and the bulk of the scoring in the second half. This was the Greek Freak’s sixth straight 30-point game, passing Bucks’ legend Marques Johnson’s record. Kareem Abdul-Jabar still holds the franchise record with 16 in 1972.
Another guy that stepped up in the absence of Khris has been stepping up often lately. Eric Bledsoe has been on a tear and was an offensive monster yet again against Chicago with his fifth straight game of at least 20 points. Bled finished with 31/4/8 and got his 31 points on just 14 shots. That is incredible efficiency, especially for a relatively short point guard who doesn’t create his own shots but instead drives for the rim. For reference, Giannis got his 38 points on 24 shots and just one more make from the field. Bledsoe has been as essential of a player as any in this recent stretch of winning.
With the absence of Khris came some big change in the rotation. Most notably, Donte DiVincenzo got the first NBA start of his career but wasn’t able to capitalize on the opportunity in the way he had hoped. He had 4/4/5 with 3 turnovers, not terrible but not the type of production Coach Bud is looking for from a starter. Donte wasn’t the only one who underproduced. The rest of the Bucks’ bench guards faired no better, shooting a combined 4-19 from the field. This group includes George Hill, Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, and Kyle Korver. I’d imagine Bud doesn’t switch Donte out of the starting lineup after just one game, but if he were I’d expect Brown to get the start as Hill has been the anchor the bench unit needs.
This game will be regarded as a fluke shooting performance from the Chicago Bulls. They regressed to a normal percentage by the end of the fourth quarter, but for a majority of the game, they were making about half the threes they took. Milwaukee will need to clean up some of the execution errors on both ends of the court if they are going to have continued success in the absence of Khris Middleton.
The Bucks return to action on Saturday in Indiana to take on the Pacers. Tip is set for 6:00 p.m. CT.