The most highly-anticipated game of the NBA regular season so far didn’t disappoint. The LA Lakers, fresh off their first loss in 15 away games at Indiana, came into Fiserv Forum Thursday night looking to make a statement. Milwaukee, who had also lost their last game to snap an 18-game win streak Monday against the Mavericks, wanted to show that they are here to contend with the best on a national stage. Despite some anxious closing minutes in the fourth quarter, the Bucks got the job done, winning 111-104.
Both teams began the game playing cautiously. Neither team wanted to find themselves on the wrong end of an early run which resulted in not much aggression in the first few minutes. LeBron and Anthony Davis were ice cold and much of the Bucks starters couldn’t find a rhythm, most notably Khris Middleton.
But a second-quarter surge that included six threes from the Bucks extended the lead above twenty points with the margin at nineteen after 24 minutes. Milwaukee was simply outshooting LAL in the half, posting 50%/44% splits compared to 39%/33% for the Lakers. LeBron and AD combined for 20 points but just 6-20 from the field. You just knew this couldn’t continue.
Los Angeles made up for ten points in the third quarter and made the fourth quarter a spectacle instead of the blowout it was looking like it could be. The Lakers’ big two stepped it up out of necessity and were forced to play a huge role due to the lack of bench scoring, which finished the game in the Bucks’ favor 34-4.
Aside from the improved shooting percentages from the Lakers in the second half, some of that can be attributed to the lack of minutes Giannis and Khris saw for much of the third and some of the fourth. Both got their fifth fouls in the third quarter which allowed LeBron and AD to work their pick and roll without the Freak in the way.
Once Giannis made his way back on the floor in the fourth, he quickly forced LeBron into his fourth and fifth fouls to even the playing field, although Anthony Davis didn’t face the same struggles and was on the floor the entire second half. Despite the disproportionate minutes, Milwaukee executed just enough down the stretch and didn’t let the lead get lower than five. Giannis and the Bucks closed out the game with defense, the best in the league.
This game was not short of highlights, but I’ll leave that to Twitter. Instead, I believe the numbers are even more fascinating. LeBron James played 37 minutes and finished with 21/12/11 on 8-19 shooting and 3-7 from deep, a fantastic stat line. Anthony Davis played 43 minutes and finished with 36/10/5 on 11-25 from the field 0-6 from deep, another impressive night.
But Giannis was the alpha tonight. In just 32 minutes, eleven less than AD, Giannis had 34/11/7 on 11-19 from the field and a career-high 5-8 from three. Even with his limited time on the court, he made the biggest impact he could and it showed through numerous highlights.
Yet, this was still a team win. George Hill came through as the second scorer with 21 points on 7-12 shooting. Wesley Matthews added 13 on 3-7 from deep and was the primary defender on LeBron, who shot 5-13 when guarded by Wes. Khris settled down to create some of his own shots at crucial points and added 15. Brook Lopez owned the paint like this was just another game and finished with three blocks.
The point is, even though most of the credit can go to Giannis, he is not a one-man show. This team is built for the long run and they proved it to the country.
A big reason for Milwaukee’s success has to be attributed to their defensive scheme. Brook and Robin sit in the paint and take away nearly everything at the rim. The Bucks get into trouble when those guys have to match up with stretch centers like Marc Gasol and Kristaps Porzingis. The Lakers don’t possess any such player but instead put Javale McGee and Dwight Howard at the five. When Milwaukee can stay in their defense, it’s a problem for every team they face.
Friday will be a great day. After every Lakers game, every national NBA show features them a great deal. They won’t have any choice but to include the team that beat them with the best record in the league.
Oh, and all of this without their starting point guard Eric Bledsoe.
There’s little time to enjoy the win as the Bucks will head to New York to take on the Knicks on Saturday night. Tip is set for 6:30 p.m. CT.
Until then, enjoy this, Bucks’ fans.