With a chance to win consecutive games for the first time this season, the Milwaukee Bucks lost in a way that’s become all too familiar. They hung around only to watch their opponent make the big plays down the stretch to pull out a victory.
After cutting a double-digit deficit to three with 3:42 left in the game, the Bucks didn’t hit another field goal until Giannis Antetokounmpo made a meaningless 3-pointer with one second on the clock.
But to Bucks coach Larry Drew, Milwaukee fell 96-87 to Utah on Thursday night because his team just couldn’t stop dribble penetration all night long.
"We didn’t play well," Drew said. "We were exposed off the dribble all game long. We have to be better. We were exposed. We were exposed.
"It’s very discouraging that we would allow that type of dribble penetration. If we allow teams to penetrate us like that then we will be in for a long night every game we play. We have to take more of an individual challenge defending off the dribble."
The trio of Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Diante Garrett was able to create easy looks for Derrick Favors, who scored seven points in the final two minutes to finish with 21.
Milwaukee fought to stick around but couldn’t get a stop when it needed one and turned the ball over on crucial offensive possessions. Whenever the Jazz needed a bucket, they got in the paint and found a good look off of the penetration.
"Any time you catch that ball with two feet in the paint, you are either going to foul or they are going to score," Drew said. "Players are just too good. You have to put more of a resistance up. Tonight we didn’t do that. We were very soft off the dribble and tentative in the paint.
"They just drove us. Every time you looked up they were in the paint against us."
Drew felt the Bucks were a bit sluggish in the first half and sensed the game was there for the taking in the opening 24 minutes. After playing the Jazz even for the first quarter, Milwaukee was outscored 31-22 in the second to fall behind by nine at the break.
"Going in at halftime down by nine points, I still thought we were in good position," Drew said. "I was waiting for that burst, I really was. It just seemed to never happen. It seemed as if we were fighting uphill the whole game."
The major reason the Bucks couldn’t get going offensively Thursday night was their inability to knock down shots from beyond the arc. Milwaukee hit just four of its 22 attempts from 3-point range, missing all nine in the first half and just one of 13 in the first three quarters.
Drew wasn’t pleased with some of the shots the Bucks took, crediting the poor shooting numbers more to shot selection than just an off night.
"When you are on the road you have to be more selective," Drew said. "When the three is falling you can seek it a little more. When it is not falling you have to look to drive the ball and get to the free-throw line. We relied on the three and it ended up biting us."
But the shooting woes weren’t bothering Drew the most. The fact his team couldn’t keep Utah out of the paint was what was eating at him.
"There are going to be nights when offensively we won’t be able to put it in the ocean, but that can’t be the deciding factor as far as us winning and losing," Drew said. "We have to bring a defensive presence every single night. I thought from start to finish, Utah exposed us off the dribble. We just have to be better."