Salt Lake City’s winning history against the Milwaukee Bucks continues in a putrid affair that saw the latter down by as much as 21 points.
For most of the game, it felt like nothing was going right for Milwaukee. Four Jazz players scored at least 25 in a balanced effort enroute to their latest victory against the Bucks.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what went wrong for the Bucks.
Defense Wins Championships—and Against MVPs, Apparently
The game started out slow as both teams struggled to get into an offensive flow. But it was defense that turned out to be the difference-maker early on.
Utah’s personnel match up very well against that of Milwaukee, and this game was no different. The third-ranked Jazz defense made its mark early with former DPOY Rudy Gobert clamping down on Antetokounmpo. It’s nothing Bucks fans haven’t seen before in this matchup. Gobert’s length coupled with collapsing defenders made for a tough night for the reigning MVP.
It was the same story out on the perimeter as the absence of Jrue Holiday was felt on the defensive end more than ever. Utah’s guards penetrated the porous Bucks defense at will when switched onto the likes of Bryn Forbes and DJ Augustin. On the other end of the court, Milwaukee couldn’t make their shots.
By half-time, the Bucks had just 7 threes on 23 attempts while the Jazz went 12-of-24. Brook Lopez led the Bucks then with 13 points while Middleton and Portis had 12 apiece. Giannis was so far a non-factor in scoring with just two points to show for it.
Utah found itself in the bonus with five minutes to go in the third, and they took advantage of this quite well. They held on to a comfortable 82-96 lead over the Bucks to end a third quarter the Bucks only won by three points.
Bucks Still Crumble in Tough Moments
When they’re not blowing the opposition out, Milwaukee has never been a good team in tense moments. The early signs were already hinting at a rout. Milwaukee failed to make the necessary adjustments post-halftime and came out looking uncoordinated.
After halftime, Utah still got everything they wanted on offense and put the Bucks in jail on the other end. Utah moved the rock with an almost Beautiful Game-esque execution, while the Bucks stagnated when their sets failed to produce.
This ball movement by the Jazz 😍 pic.twitter.com/h1OIMKgcnU
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 13, 2021
The key to going on a run is getting stops, but Milwaukee’s undisciplined, eighth-ranked defense did little against a Jazz attack firing on all cylinders. It was smart, fundamental basketball all around as the ball zipped around the perimeter until it ended up in the hands of the open man.
The Jazz found success exploiting Budenholzer’s drop scheme with a double drag screen action. Lopez’s defensive limitations were on display with the Jazz guards slashing into the paint or kicking out to shooters. When the Bucks big man tried to contest, Gobert was always there for the timely putback. When the Bucks dropped low, the shooters always made them pay.
Each time down the floor, the hapless Bucks just could not find an answer.
A Donte DiVincenzo alley-oop cut the lead to 11 four minutes into the final quarter. Fouls affected much of the outcome from that point on, though, as both teams were in the penalty with six minutes left in the game. Jordan Clarkson and Donovan Mitchell took it upon themselves to right the ship and looked like magicians in isolation situations.
📹| @jordanclarksons ⤵️
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 13, 2021
Even then, the Bucks never really looked like they had a chance. They looked all out of sorts on either end despite the minuscule run, and it was over long before the final buzzer.
It’s inescapable at this point: the Utah Jazz are for real. They’re legitimately among the best teams in the league, and head coach Quin Snyder deserves all the credit for that.
A few observations
Milwaukee and Utah are top five in shooting the three-ball, but the Bucks’ perimeter talent hardly made a difference for most of the game.
Coming off a stretch of games where they shot the lights out, Milwaukee’s wings look like they’re coming back down to earth. Both DiVincenzo and Forbes shot 1-of-4 from distance and only scored five points apiece. Pat Connaughton finished with 2 points and did not attempt a single three-pointer.
Without Antetokounmpo’s production, Khris Middleton struggled to carry his share of the scoring load. It didn’t help that he had a pesky Joe Ingles chasing him around the court on most possessions. He finished with a meager 18 points, 2 rebounds, and 4 assists in what was one of his more forgettable games.
After winning five-straight, the Bucks are suddenly facing a two-game losing skid. Let’s hope they can go back to their winning ways when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Toronto Raptors.