Opportunities to see the Milwaukee Bucks play on national television have been few and far between since I moved to Louisiana eight years ago. The inability to watch the team on a game-by-game basis – as I did when I lived in Wisconsin – has all but defeated my fandom (as I’ve referenced many times before), but I still follow the team to some extent. With ESPN showing the Bucks-Knicks game on Friday evening, I was very much looking forward to see how the team is progressing. From the box scores, it appears that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are becoming the pair of forwards I envisioned when I watched them two years ago in Summer League.
When I arrived home and turned on the game, the Bucks were already losing 9-0. Milwaukee proceeded – probably because I sat down to watch the game – to put together an impressive 19-4 run that showed off just what the team has become. Giannis was the catalyst of the offense. I love how aggressive he is. Jabari was extremely smooth on offense and hit some tough shots. I wrote about Greg Monroe being the biggest free agent signing in Bucks history, but it took the team a season to figure out his role: a beastly second unit scorer who wouldn’t hurt the defense too badly. He played that to a t. The Bucks also feature another second-round surprise in Malcolm Brogdon. I didn’t think much of his drafting, but he has become a solid player for Milwaukee. He is also aggressive – on both sides of the ball, and the team has not missed a beat while Matthew Dellavedova has been out with a hamstring injury.
Through three quarters, the Bucks looked like the much better team. They were able to score at least 30 points in each quarter, but I was most impressed by their defense. In the second quarter, they had some beautiful defensive stands in which they were flying to the ball and not allowing many open shots. The game also looks very easy when a team is hitting all of its 3-point shots. The Knicks hit their first five from long range, but Milwaukee hit is first eight 3-point attempts. Even without Khris Middleton, the Bucks aren’t bad from the perimeter (Brodgon, Parker, Mirza Teletovic, and Michael Beasley are all hitting better than 38 percent of their 3-pointers), but I knew that rate of connection was unsustainable. It was interesting to see Beasley and Derrick Rose, the top two picks of the 2008 draft, face off. Back then, I argued that Beasley should be the first pick, but his career has not quite gone as I expected.
Antetokounmpo has already exceeded what most people thought he would become. I love that coach Jason Kidd has installed him as the point guard. Even though he only had two assists in this game, it is clear that he has command of the offense. He does most of his scoring around the basket, but took five 3-pointers (making two). I think he has also improved as a shot blocker and had five blocks, including a highlight reel moment against Kristaps Porzingis.
This was my first chance to watch the Knick forward play. Like Antetokounmpo, Porzingis is amazing. He is so big and has so much range on his jumper. At one point in the fourth quarter, Porzingis made a pair of long 3-pointers to help the Knicks get in range of the comeback win. While he isn’t quite as fluid as Giannis, it is hard not to be excited about Kristaps and what he could become. I also thought Rose looked pretty good. Per his usual, he attacked the basket with ferocity, even though he sat out the fourth quarter as coach Jeff Hornacek went with Ron Baker.
The Bucks looked like they were going to win comfortably coming into that last quarter, and I hoped that I might get to see Thon Maker. It wasn’t to be and that was because the best player on the court was Carmelo Anthony. The Syracuse champion has had a rocky tenure in New York (where he has almost played as many season as he did in Denver), but he had a great game to help the Knicks snap a six-game losing streak. The Bucks were fully aware of Anthony in the fourth quarter and aggressively doubled him. Anthony was able to make great passes to open teammates and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 51 seconds remaining to give New York a lead they would not relent. He scored 12 of his 26 points with three assists in the fourth quarter. If Parker can become a player similar to Anthony, that would be a great thing for Milwaukee’s future.
While I give most of the credit to Anthony for the Knicks’ win, modern sports writing is more about assigning blame to the loser. As noted above, the Bucks hit an unsustainable number of 3-pointers in the first half. Other than a pair of Tony Snell treys in the middle of the fourth quarter, the basket began to look smaller for Milwaukee. The Bucks’ offense took a little longer to get into place in the fourth quarter as it appeared as if they were attempting to milk their lead (i.e. play prevent defense). The worst offensive possession took place after the Knicks forged a three-point lead with less than a minute left. Teletovic took a quick and tough long-range 2-point shot. It missed and effectively ended the game. I guess this lack of execution in the late stages falls on Kidd’s head. This isn’t the first time that Milwaukee has blown a fourth-quarter lead. The Bucks shouldn’t be too upset. It looks as if they have two stars on the upswing and a shot at the playoffs for the first time since 2015.