Sanders returns and Giannis shines: Nets 104 — Bucks 93

Sanders returned -- but Giannis stole the show. (Photo credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE, Getty Images)
Sanders returned — but Giannis stole the show against Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE, Getty Images)
Milwaukee Bucks 93 Recap | Box Score 104 Brooklyn Nets
Ersan Ilyasova, PF Shot Chart 22 MIN | 2-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -7

Larry Sanders wasn’t the only player to return from injury. After sitting out Milwaukee’s last three games with lingering ankle issues, Ilyasova returned to the starting lineup against Brooklyn. The results, however, were uninspiring. His jump shot was still visibly off. He was either very short or very long on each three-point attempt, and he finished just 2-11 from the field. In an unusual matchup, Ilyasova lined up against Paul Pierce for most of the night and generally held his own — Pierce finished the game with 13 points on 11 shots.

Ilyasova also looked a bit more spry on his bum ankle — as vintage Ersan appeared a few times in the “pop-up zone” — so that’s another positive.

John Henson, PF Shot Chart 20 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -17

It was a fairly quiet — yet productive — night for Henson. Although he started, Henson played just 20 minutes with the return of Ilyasova and Sanders. Given the absences of centers Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, Nets coach Jason Kidd had to use small lineups the entire game — so it’s a little odd Henson didn’t see more action.

Khris Middleton, PF Shot Chart 33 MIN | 3-11 FG | 7-7 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 15 PTS | +6

It was another steady game for Middleton. Although he struggled from the field, Middleton averted a truly inefficient night by hitting all seven of his free throws. He also grabbed eight rebounds.

Middleton fouled out at the end of the game, but that was only due to intentional fouling.

Brandon Knight, PG Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-13 FG | 2-4 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | -9

After averaging 23.2 points over the previous five games, Knight cooled down against the Nets. His three-point shot wasn’t falling, and he forced a few ill-advised long twos.

At times, it seems like he’s just one step behind the defense. At least two of his passes were tipped in the opening minutes of the game. I’m still not sure whether he’s just telegraphing his passes or lacking the court vision necessary to excel at point guard.

On the other side of the ball, he mostly contained Deron Williams, who finished with just nine points in 29 minutes. That’s an encouraging sign, as opposing point guards have lit up the Bucks over the last handful of games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, SG Shot Chart 34 MIN | 5-12 FG | 5-6 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +12

If you’re a Giannis fan — and, ugh, who isn’t? — then Friday night was a good night. The rookie scored a career-high 16 points, grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and posted his first career double-double. He also led the team in minutes and hit five of six free throw attempts (don’t look now, but he has surged above 70 percent from the line this season).

This was was easily Antetokounmpo’s most aggressive night offensively. After corralling defensive rebounds, he continually pushed the ball up the court. It only resulted in one recorded assist, but he created several good transition looks for his teammates. More impressively, he was always under control — only turning the ball over once.

For good measure, Antetokounmpo flashed two ridiculous behind-the-back passes in the third quarter. On one, he caught the ball on the baseline, awkwardly contorted his body and, at the same time, effortlessly dropped a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Sanders, who missed the layup but was fouled.

Caron Butler, SF Shot Chart 17 MIN | 0-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -27

When Butler has the ball, it’s pretty clear that his preferred option is shooting. Passing is the last resort. Tonight, he settled for a bevy of inefficient, contested jumpers, and it resulted in a scoreless, 0-7 performance.

I’m not sure whether he feels pressure to carry the scoring burden as the team’s leader, or whether he truly thinks shooting the ball every time he touches it is beneficial, or whether he’s simply looking to secure an NBA contract beyond this season. Regardless, the results are scarcely advantageous.

Miroslav Raduljica, C Shot Chart 6 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +4

Raduljica entered the game with just six minutes remaining, and the Bucks answered with a little pseudo-run. In familiar fashion, he displayed impressive hands by snagging an interior pass and finishing off the glass. However, he was just a step too slow on defense. His inability to even alter or prevent shots remains a concern.

Larry Sanders, C Shot Chart 22 MIN | 4-5 FG | 2-6 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +2

He’s back. Ironically, his first game in nearly two months turned out to be his best of the season. After three inauspicious games to open the season and a broken thumb, Sanders was very active — particularly on the boards — in his return. He posted a season-high in both points and rebounds. More importantly, and despite fouling out in 22 minutes, he looked under control. After a questionable midrange jumper to open his stat line, Sanders converted all four of his next shots. He stayed in the paint, either diving to the hoop and finishing or waiting to convert on a second chance.

As a whole, it was a very promising start to his comeback from injury (and, warranted or not, negative public perception. On-court performance can overshadow a lot).

Sanders appeared to aggravate his thumb in the third quarter. While picking up an offensive foul on a charge, he crashed to the ground and instinctively broke the fall with his palms open. Sanders stayed in the game, but a trainer was tending to him after he fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

Luke Ridnour, PG Shot Chart 20 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -2

Drew is increasingly using a Wolters-Ridnour backcourt. There isn’t a large enough sample size to draw any real conclusions, but the pairing doesn’t seem to be particularly effective. Although Ridnour has plenty of experience as the off-ball guard — a role he played almost exclusively last season — the duo doesn’t add a ton of shooting or defense to a five-man unit. While Ridnour shoots well, he struggles immensely on defense — and Wolters does the inverse. The pairing, however, does help curb Milwaukee’s turnover issues.

Nate Wolters, PG Shot Chart 11 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -11

He made a three-pointer! It was his first make since Nov. 1 and snapped a 22-game drought. He is now 3-27 (11.1 percent) from beyond the arc this season.

(Nevertheless, he only has 14 fewer three-point field goals in his NBA career than Doron Lamb. I don’t know why I find that so fascinating, but I do.)

O.J. Mayo, SG Shot Chart 27 MIN | 5-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -6

Thirteen points on as many shots for Mayo. After hitting back-to-back threes in the first half, Mayo was largely invisible. He just looks a tad lackadaisical on the court — particularly on defense — and it’s probably no coincidence that head coach Larry Drew relegated Mayo to the bench shortly after calling out his team due to a lack of energy. Then again, Mayo did receive a technical foul after arguing a no-call on a drive to the hoop, so maybe the passion is there.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Although the Bucks lost by double digits, it was a fairly even game. Fast-break points, turnovers and points in the paint were nearly identical. The Nets made three more three-pointers, grabbed six more rebounds and converted six more free throws — and those differentials were enough for a bad NBA team to beat a worse NBA team. The Eastern Conference is a bundle of joy.
  2. Was this a breakout game for Giannis? It certainly felt like it. There should be a new “Greek Freak Alert” that sends notifications when he is *not* on the court (at which time fans can safely avert their attention).
  3. Former Bucks point guard Shaun Livingston, who came into Friday night averaging less than six points per game, led the Nets in scoring with 20 points on 11 shots. In signature fashion, he was able to post up and rise over Milwaukee’s shorter guards with relative ease.
  4. The Bucks allowed Mirza Teletovic — who literally only shoots three-pointers (nearly two-thirds of his shot attempts this season are from beyond the arc) — to chuck up nine uncontested three-point looks. He converted five and scored a season-high 19 points.

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  1. Did Larry Drew call a time out with 20 seconds left down 12 to get Nate Wolters an open three? That was weird.

  2. “Calling out his team due to lack of energy”. Hmm, seems like we’ve heard this one before. I know the losses stacking up plays into this as well, but it seems to me like Drew has lost this locker room before half the season has played out. He isn’t able to consistently motivate this roster, and that’s a problem.

    Anyways, the game never really got close. Milwaukee would pull within nine, then Brooklyn would go on a run, and they drained their threes with ease all night.

    It’s great that Sanders is back, but there’s no reason Henson was sitting on the bench essentially the entire second half unless he was hurt. I never heard anything about an injury though, so my guess is Drew once again is failing in his rotations. 8 points and 7 boards in 20 minutes on efficient scoring, yet Ilyasova gets 22 minutes and was playing poorly the entire night…

    It’s also worth noting that Drew never played the Henson/Sanders front court together last night. Whether he felt it just wouldn’t work or what, it still bothers me that our two most productive players at the four and five spot saw no minutes together, especially when what we needed most was a few stops.