LAS VEGAS — In their final game of this year’s NBA Summer League, the Milwaukee Bucks found a way to win their first game as they held off the Golden State Warriors without the help of leading scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is traveling back to Greece to prepare for FIBA competition.
After sprinting out to a 45-21 halftime lead, the Bucks needed every bit of Jabari Parker’s breakout 20-point, 15-rebound performance to carry them through a stressful second half that saw the lead trimmed to just three points when Aaron Craft made a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left in the game.
Bucks coach Sean Sweeney was happy with the win but remained focused on the importance of developing the Bucks’ young talent.
"Winning’s always good, but this is a bigger picture. It’s development, it’s starting to put your system in place and the early stages of what you’re trying to do to build your program," Sweeney explained. "The guys did a great job for the last 12, 14 days. Everybody worked really hard, everybody played with a great attitude, nobody had any selfishness, so that was really good. Short-term winning’s great, but long-term we got some things accomplished that we wanted to."
While the coaches are happy with what they’ve accomplished in preparation the season, Bucks fans can’t help but get excited about Parker’s fantastic line as the main scoring option without Antetokounmpo. Chris Wright chipped in a summer-high 16 points and eight rebounds, but the story was all about Parker, who was nearly unstoppable attacking the basket Friday and admitted that he was hungry for his first victory.
"The only thing that matters is getting a win. Just doing whatever I have to do," Parker said, downplaying the stunning reverse slam dunk he hammered home late in the game. "We got up by 20, we were playing a great game, so the only thing to do was to just close it out and I was looking forward to getting one win."
As the second pick in the NBA Draft, everyone knew Parker had tremendous talent. It’s his rapid rate of improvement and adjustment to his new situation that makes him so intriguing. And in pursuit of that improvement, he has done much of what the Sweeney and the rest of the coaching staff has asked him to over the last few weeks, from avoiding settling for jump shots and getting to the free-throw line more often, to staying aggressive on both ends of the court.
He had to warm up to the first idea Friday, as he attempted a number of jump shots and zero free throws in the first half, but he attacked the basket relentlessly in the second half and earned a healthy six free-throw attempts (he made four). His 15 rebounds also led a dominant rebounding effort as the Bucks pulled down 61 rebounds to Golden State’s 37 and was a big key in building the early lead.
"We talked about rebounding the ball. We did a good job of contesting shots, so a lot of times when you contest shots well, you’re going to get more misses," Sweeney said. "We tried to place an emphasis on all five guys going to the boards."
Parker’s excellence may have been the story of the game, but he hinted at the opportunity for much more to come, saying that he only felt "about 50-percent" sure of how the coaches were going to utilize his skills this season, and that he and head coach Jason Kidd would be fleshing that out over the remainder of the offseason.
GAME NOTES: Johnny O’Bryant struggled to shoot the ball efficiently Friday (2-of-10), but he tallied his first double-double of the summer with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go with two blocked shots and a steal in under 21 minutes of play. . . . Wright also had his best game of the summer with 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. . . . Kenny Kadji took advantage of extra playing time in the second half and nearly had a double-double, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds along with an assist, a steal and a block.