The Milwaukee Bucks took a close one against the San Antonio Spurs, 121-111, on Sunday. The Bucks won by double figures, but they were also down by as much as 7 to the run-and-gun Spurs who showed their youth and team basketball with balanced play on both ends.
That the game against the defending champions was this close is absolutely a credit to the Spurs’ young core and coaching staff. After once trailing by as much as 13, a furious 20-4 San Antonio run gave them a 77-74 lead towards the end of the third quarter.
Ultimately, it was the efficient scoring from all three levels that made the difference for Milwaukee in this one. The Bucks sunk 15 of their 35 attempts from three-point land, and six players finished with double figures in scoring, including all of their starters.
Here are a few takeaways we noticed.
When the stars come out to play, Milwaukee wins
It’s become something of a battle cry for his most ardent of fans: Khris Middleton is good. The smooth-shooting swingman paced the Bucks all game long with his exquisite shot-making from mid-range. He poured in three and-one plays en route to a game-high 28 points in his 35 minutes of action.
At this point, we’ve grown used to seeing Middleton take over games after relatively slow starts. Doubts over his ability as a No. 2 on this team should now be the exception rather than the norm. When you consider the end result, that he only made 3 of his 7 triples hardly mattered once the final buzzer sounded.
Speaking of buckets:
28 PTS | 2 REB | 3 AST pic.twitter.com/I31DOo37KR
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 24, 2021
Though he had trouble against the size and length of Jakob Poeltl, Giannis Antetokounmpo put in a relatively sub-standard game. Early foul trouble put him on the bench for most of it, while the Spurs’ intensity caused him to give up five turnovers. He ended up playing just 30 minutes and finishing with 21 points, 8 boards, and 8 assists in the win.
Veteran point guard Jrue Holiday picked up the scoring load when the reigning Finals MVP sat. He hit three of his four treys on the way to 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. His defense was up to his usual standard as evidenced by Spurs guard Dejounte Murray finishing with just ten points on 5/14 shooting. Despite the shortened offseason, there are zero signs of rust for the Bucks floor general entering this season.
Bench mob coming to life?
Perhaps Pat Connaughton, who started at center sans Brook Lopez, should have been mentioned in the previous subhead as well. He’s obviously not a star in this league, but Planet Pat continues to put in clutch performances for this team on both ends of the floor dating back to last season’s NBA Finals. Budenholzer’s glue guy played a game-high 37 minutes and pulled down seven rebounds as the “center” on the floor.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 24, 2021
In this play, Connaughton purposefully relocates to the wing immediately after the dribble handoff to Antetokounmpo off the sideline inbound pass. The attention generated from Antetokounmpo’s gravity is all the space this newest iteration of Connaughton — who shot 44.1 percent from three in the NBA Finals — needed to get off his shot.
Just two games after he dropped 20 on the Brooklyn Nets, Connaughton finished with 16 points this time around after going 3/5 from three, two of which came one after the other in the fourth quarter to put the game away for the defending champions.
After a relatively decent game where he seemed slow to react and slower to move around the basketball court, George Hill looked more like the veteran presence he was during his last tenure with Milwaukee. He finished with 16 points off the bench after going 3/3 from deep. Even Thanasis got in on the party, coming in with improved finishing around the rim and excellent effort on the defensive end.
Injury bug might be a problem moving forward
The team made it out alive, but this is the second straight game without Brook Lopez due to the same back problems that followed him all year long last year. The relentless run San Antonio went on in the third quarter of this game is evidence of the defensive impact Lopez brings to this team, even if his lumbering stature comes with its own set of limitations.
Injury bugs have ruined many a team’s chances at postseason greatness. The Bucks as they stand right now are playing without both of their centers in the rotation, without their backup power forward, and without their backup shooting guard. In this game, Khris Middleton reportedly slipped on a puddle that very easily could have gone the wrong way. Against the Brooklyn Nets, Holiday went down with a heel injury that left him able to just play 25 minutes against San Antonio tonight.
Things have been rocky, to say the least.
Let’s hope this is the end of the injuries rather than the beginning. At the very least, what this means is that we haven’t yet seen the Bucks at full strength. In the words of John Mayer, they’ve still got the best of themselves hiding up their sleeves. And thankfully, these games have given players like Jordan Nwora and Thanasis Antetokounmpo extended minutes to prove their worth.
This is only to say that when you take these three together, there’s really no team equipped to stop all three. It’s clear they’re their best versions when they take the court together. Their championship chemistry showed tonight, and with the remaining starters hopefully coming back soon, we can expect their play to get better from here.
Other Bucks still looking for bounce-back games
There are still a few holes that need patching up, to be sure. Sandro Mamukelashvili saw just six minutes of action and failed to record a single point, rebound, or assist.
Rodney Hood, too, was listed as available to play after recovering from injury but was unexpectedly slapped with a DNP-CD. Obviously, there are things that go on at practice that fans have limited access to. At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder why a player of Hood’s caliber wasn’t given a single minute.
For what feels like the third game in a row, Grayson Allen’s shooting slump continues. He only sank 2/8 on his three-point attempts despite a number of them being relatively wide open. The heir apparent to the Bucks’ starting shooting guard slot shot nearly 40 percent on threes last year and 45.8 percent in the succeeding preseason games.
His shooting slump from deep has had shades of Donte DiVincenzo written all over it, and Bucks fans are still waiting for him to capitalize on the spacing that the Bucks big three afford him.