The Milwaukee Bucks fell below .500 at the official halfway point of their season thanks to a disappointing loss on the road in Houston.
The Milwaukee Bucks were back in the big time on Wednesday night, as they visited the Houston Rockets and one of the league’s leading MVP candidates in front of the ESPN cameras.
The primary reason for Milwaukee’s recent emergence into the national spotlight is none other than their soon to be All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, and as such, it was fitting that he put on a show in the Toyota Center, even if his teammates failed to join him.
Antetokounmpo eased his way to an impressive night, even if he slowed down from close to the midway point of the third.
Still a monster night from the Greek Freak alone isn’t enough to see off a team led by James Harden. The Beard finished up with 38 points, eight assists and six rebounds on a very efficient 14-25 from the field, and had strong performances from Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell to draw on as backup too.
That was a luxury that Giannis didn’t really have on this occasion. Let’s take a closer look at that, though, as we grade the Bucks’ players, Jason Kidd and the Rockets.
Brogdon finished with a relatively impressive stat line that illustrated a consistent level of effort in terms of dishing out assists and crashing the boards, but in reality he shot very poorly and got torched by a combination of Harden and Beverley on the defensive end. This is one of the tougher two-way backcourt matchups for guards in the NBA right now, and it looked even tougher for Milwaukee’s standout rookie on Wednesday. Brogdon has still looked good, but hasn’t quite been at his previous heights of late and that can probably put down to a larger rotation issue that will be discussed at greater lengths very soon.
Snell couldn’t do much to stop James Harden, which in many ways feels like a tough measure to gauge any NBA player’s performance by these days, but he at least managed to knock down the majority of the few shots that fell his way. Snell couldn’t be faulted for effort, but this is one of the games where any kind of comparison to Khris Middleton has no real chance of holding up
I considered slightly reducing Giannis’ final grade considering he barely added to his points tallies from the midway point of the third quarter onwards, but I decided against it because he was likely exhausted at that point from carrying the weight of his 14 teammates on his back. The Greek Freak was phenomenal, again, on national TV, as he was able to get his preferred shots at will throughout, and made a host of highlight-worthy defensive plays. Much like was the case against the 76ers on Monday, he just needed some help. Jason Kidd has one of the best players in the NBA at his disposal, but he needs to construct a rotation that’s better served to get the best out of his supporting cast.
Although he’s offered more than adequate help to his star teammate throughout most of this season, Jabari Parker came up short on Wednesday. The Rockets chose to have James Harden spend significant time guarding Parker, and in spite of Harden’s reputation for questionable defense, there wasn’t really any occasion in the game where it felt as if Parker even threatened to find a rhythm. A final contribution of 15 points and seven rebounds isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly not in line with what he’s set as the standard this year. Jabari needs to be more aggressive in looking to get to the rim, and his coach and teammates need to find ways to help to integrate him a little more too.
Henson’s performance was better than it has been in some of his recent games, but the problem is it was set up to be much better. With Clint Capela coming off the bench as he slowly works his way back from injury, and the undersized Montrezl Harrell taking the bulk of the minutes at center, the Rockets would have seemed at risk of being exposed by more traditional centers. Harrell’s effort and athleticism often showed up Henson (and Monroe), as once again, the Bucks were left wanting by their contributions at center.
Normally a rock of consistent bench production, Greg Monroe looked far from his usual self on Wednesday. Again, this was a game where the Bucks could have had a path to success at center, but instead the team’s passive big men were found out by their smaller, more energetic Houston counterparts. Considering how well the Bucks had gotten Monroe to fit and contribute for the first few months of this season, they should be feeling a pressing need to go back to what had worked with him. In other words: reunite Malc and Moose.
Started the first quarter very well and with some nice passes and a made three seemed set to give his first really positive performance since his return to injury, but dropped off significantly as the game progressed. This certainly wasn’t an easy game for him to find something in considering how bad most of his second unit teammates were on the night, but Delly is another player who needs something to kick start his season again.
Against the team who gave him a chance to revitalize his NBA career last season, Michael Beasley put in a very impressive performance. The star man of the Bucks bench in recent games, Beas scored the ball with relative efficiency via a variety of different looks (14 points on 6-14 from the field), while crashing the boards for an impressive eight rebounds in just 24 minutes. The Bucks needed this kind of showing from Beasley, they just need others to offer the same kind of output too.
I’m an unabashed Mirza Teletovic fan, but this was an ugly night for the Bosnian. Teletovic is clearly out of rhythm following on from his spell of unexplained and mysterious DNPs, and as someone who’s a streaky, volume shooter, that’s certainly amplifying his recent negative play. Going 0-5 from the field in the space of eight minutes is a big problem, but in some aspects it’s one of the coaching staff’s own creation of late.
Less minutes than we’ve seen for him lately, and although JET helped to move the ball, he failed to register a single stat outside of two missed field goal attempts. The Bucks aren’t exactly looking to Terry for gaudy numbers, but more than this certainly would have helped.
Rashad Vaughn didn’t get the early rotation minutes in this one that he saw over the past week or so, but he did manage to make a field goal when he came in. Three minutes of action and three shots certainly proves that Vaughn remains unafraid of putting up shots.
Another in the three minute club, Plums grabbed a rebound. That was it.
Credit to Thon for showing more in his brief cameo than his much more experienced teammates. Maker took and missed a three-pointer, as well as converting an and-one for an old fashioned triple, and grabbing a couple of rebounds too. Energy, effort and enthusiasm regardless of the score.
Jason Kidd’s decisions within this game weren’t egregiously bad, hence the final grade, but many of the more significant problems that his team faced on the night have come from his overall decision-making over the past few weeks. It’s something we covered in great detail on our most recent episode of the Win In 6 Podcast, but the tweaks to the bench rotation since Christmas have really thrown the Bucks off balance. Entering 2017 with one of the best performing bench units in the entire NBA, the Bucks are now a shadow of that team.
Monroe is getting nothing going without Malcolm Brogdon, Dellavedova doesn’t have the requisite skill to carry a bench without a go-to creator, Mirza Teletovic has lost all rhythm due to his ever-changing role, and the flow of the game is being dictated by when the Bucks starters play or sit. It’s no coincidence that the two strongest spells of Wednesday’s loss from a Milwaukee perspective came at the start of each half. Kidd may have been a little below average in terms of his performance in this game, but for the month of January he’d grade out significantly worse overall.
On the one hand, the Bucks are lucky that Giannis masks so many problems on the other, they can’t continue to neglect the need to build rotations that offer him consistent help.
This was not a vintage performance from the Rockets, and if it had been the Bucks could have been truly humiliated. The Rockets did what they had to do to get the job done, mostly working their way to quality shots via the pick and roll, and riding James Harden’s effortlessly dominant offensive play. Sure, they made plenty of threes, as the Rockets are almost always guaranteed to do, but make no mistake it was an off night from deep for Houston. The Rockets fell below their season average of three-point makes per game, only shot 31 percent from deep, and all of that came buoyed by a fourth quarter three-point shooting blitz (5-9) that resembled little more than garbage time. In short, the Rockets beat the Bucks comfortably with plenty still left in the tank.