Bucks take small solace after comeback bid falls just short

Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo holds the ball during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards at BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday night.  

Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Whatever was said in the Milwaukee Bucks locker room at halftime got across loud and clear. The problem was what happened before the break.

Unprepared to play at the beginning of the game, the Bucks allowed 75 first-half points to Washington and trailed by as many as 28. The postgame concert at the BMO Harris Bradley Center was looking like it could have been bumped up to the halftime entertainment.

But instead of giving up and being embarrassed on its home floor, Milwaukee fought to cut the deficit to three points in the fourth quarter before falling 114-107 to the Wizards.

"Honestly, I have no explanation," Bucks coach Larry Drew said of the team’s dreadful first half. "I thought the first half, we played like a team that wanted to feel sorry for ourselves, having to travel last night and with Washington sitting here waiting for us.

"I thought we wanted to feel sorry for ourselves and we played like we were feeling sorry for ourselves in the first half. I told the guys at halftime that it wasn’t going to be about strategically doing anything different, we just had to play harder."

Washington started the game 28-of-40 from the field and hit 10 of its first 16 3-point shots. Trevor Ariza had 20 points, making 4 of 5 3-point attempts in the first half, while Bradley Beal chipped in 11 with three makes from deep.

Even former Bucks forward Drew Gooden got in on the action, scoring nine points in just nine minutes on the floor.

"They came out shooting the ball real well," Bucks guard Ramon Sessions said. "Our defense wasn’t the best, but any time a team shoots 70 percent it’s going to be tough no matter what defense you play."

Switching to a zone defense in the second half out of necessity, the Bucks held the Wizards scoreless for the first 7:03 of the third quarter. A 22-point halftime deficit was cut to 75-65 by the time Ariza scored Washington’s first points of the half with 4:57 left in the third.

"We could have laid down," Knight said. "We’ve done that before where we’ve laid down and not played. We fought back and continued to fight hard and made it a game."

Wizards 114, Bucks 107

Milwaukee shot just 7-of-23 in the third quarter but Washington had just four field goals in the period. The Bucks continued to chip away and trailed by just four after a steal and a dunk by Sessions with 6:43 left.

With the ball down 95-91, John Henson was stripped by John Wall. Ariza hit a 3-pointer two possessions later to extend Washington’s lead back up to eight. The Bucks got within three with 2:01 to go, but five straight points by Beal started a decisive 8-0 Wizards run.

"We stayed professional, kept fighting and made a run in the second half," Sessions said. "It was just too late."

Drew and the Bucks have been trying to take something positive out of every game they play the rest of the way, and the coach was pleased with the effort exerted in the comeback attempt. But, as often is the case, so much energy is spent getting back into the game.

What the Bucks did show is they can play with teams like the Wizards, who have won eight of nine, in spurts. Now it’s about putting it together for a full 48 minutes.

"We’re capable of it," Knight said. "We just have to do a better job of focusing, not only on the offensive end but on the defensive end.

"We do a good job of doing it in spurts, but teams like that can do it for four quarters. That’s what we have to get better at — not for two quarters, but for four quarters. That’s the progression of how young our team is. That’s when we will get over the hump when we can do that."

Sessions agreed fighting back is a good sign for the Bucks.