Wednesday night’s nationally-televised game between the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans wasn’t the game that schedulers had in mind before the season started. Most saw it on the calendar and got excited for a Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Zion Williamson matchup. Well, the game televised by ESPN featured neither star and instead became a blowout for two and a half hours on the biggest stage with the Bucks coming out on top 127-112.
This was the first game of the first 25 games this season that Giannis hasn’t played and against a 6-18 Pels team, it just made sense to do it now ahead of a tougher schedule towards the end of December. That meant Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe would have to shoulder most of the load and the Bucks’ depth would be on full display without the anchor that is Giannis.
Slightly surprising but not unpredictable, Milwaukee was ready. They shot New Orleans right out of the gym in the first quarter and maintained the lead to the end. The Bucks went 7-12 from three and got 20 points combined from Khris and Bled to take a 35-20 lead at the end of one, the same point-differential as the final margin of victory.
Milwaukee played three great quarters of offense and defense without Giannis. The first three quarters the Bucks cracked at least 34 points while the defense only allowed more than 26 points in the third, where they gave up 40. The offense didn’t show up in the final quarter but the defense reinvigorated itself and the Bucks got the job done without the best player in the world.
Khris was the presumed offensive leader but it was Bledsoe who took over with his best offensive performance this season. He finished with 29/3/6 with two steals on 10-13 shooting and incredibly 5-6 from deep. Combine that with Middleton’s 24/5/4 on 50% shooting and that’s all you can ask of your numbers two and three on offense. There was no doubt these two had to put up points and they delivered.
Ersan Ilyasova got the start ahead of Giannis and did his absolute best to fill the void, albeit in the most Ersan way possible. Between losing the defense on a number of cuts to the hoop and hitting 2-3 from three, Ersan put up 18/9/3 on 8-10 shooting and even got a charge, finally!
The Pelicans got 77 of their 112 points from their leaders J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram, and Jrue Holiday, who combined to shoot 27-49 from the field and 10-23 from deep. The problem was they didn’t get much help outside of those three and against a Bucks team who knows exactly who they are and what they need to do to win, you’re going to be in trouble.
Milwaukee improves to 22-3 to again tie the LA Lakers for the best record in the league along with their 16-game win streak. They hit the hardwood again Friday night against the Memphis Grizzles and Ja Morant. Tip is set for 7:00 p.m. CT.