RECAP: Nuggets 103 – Bucks 102

Milwaukee Bucks 102 FinalRecap | Box Score 103 Denver Nuggets
Khris Middleton, SF 42 MIN | 5-13 FG | 3-5 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +5 +/-

Middleton is a jump shooter. If the shots are falling, he’s one of the better wings in the East; if they’re not, he doesn’t bring much else offensively. Middleton started out relatively hot, hitting both of his three-point attempts in the first quarter, including one to beat the buzzer. He hit another jumper, this one of the pull-up variety, just before halftime to give the Bucks an 11-point advantage.

He was relatively quiet throughout the second half and rimmed out on a tough look for what would have been the game-winner as time expired.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF 29 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | -26 +/-

Giannis started out strongly, putting up eight points (4-6 FG), three assists and two rebounds in the first quarter. He scored Milwaukee’s first two points of the game and was aggressive early, but that aggressiveness seemed to taper off throughout the night.

Fouls were a major issue for Giannis last season, as he somewhat quietly finished second in the league in personals behind only Andre Drummond. Foul trouble kept him glued to the bench during key stretches of Tuesday’s game, and that was again the case Wednesday. Antetokounmpo picked up a foul a minute into the game but it would be his only foul of the half.

However, he committed three within a five-minute span in the third quarter, forcing himself to the bench with 2:43 remaining in the period. He returned to start the fourth but picked up a fifth foul within three minutes. Kidd again sent him to the bench in favor of Johnny O’Bryant, and the Bucks went on an 11-0 run shortly after. Giannis didn’t re-enter until O’Bryant fouled out with less than a minute to play. To his credit, coming in cold after probably 20-to-25 minutes of real time isn’t easy, but Giannis was ready, and he converted a tough finish through contact on his first touch to give the Bucks a late lead.

More on Giannis later.

Greg Monroe, C 33 MIN | 9-13 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 18 PTS | +6 +/-

While Monroe rebounded from his worst game of the season, he failed to rebound the most important shot of the night. With about seven seconds to play and the Nuggets down one, Danillo Gallinari forced up a contested, desperation look from the lower-wing. The ball sailed well left of the rim, directly into the hands of Kenneth Faried, who tipped it in, unabated, for what would end up as the game-winning basket.

Monroe was (rightfully) away from Faried guarding against a potential Gallinari drive, but he failed to get back to his man when the shot went up, leaving Faried all alone for the uncontested putback. Granted, if Gallinari draws iron and the ball caroms literally anywhere other than into the waiting hands of Faried, were not having this conversation. But that was not the case, and it was clear on replay that Monroe could have at least contested the rebound.

On the whole, Monroe was back to his usual, solid self offensively. He’s been more efficient than I expected, and he continues to fool defender after defender with that quick spin move baseline. I thought he forced some things against the Celtics, but he was more patient Wednesday night, save for one late possession (around the 1-minute mark) when he forced up a tough baseline jumper.

Monroe notched his fourth double-double and is less than a rebound away from averaging a double-double for the season. Any lingering concerns about his fit within the Bucks’ offense can be put to rest, but obviously there are still some issues on the defensive end. As Marques Johnson pointed out no less than four times on the telecast, the Bucks struggled to defend the roll man in PnR sets, a responsibility that typically falls on the big men.

Milwaukee allowed 46 points in the paint to an undersized frontcourt, and the two-headed monster of Faried and J.J. Hickson combined to shoot 13-of-17 from the field. That’s not great.

Johnny O’Bryant III, C 34 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-3 FT | 9 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +19 +/-

At some point I’m going to have to eat crow on JOB. Like, I might have to eat an actual crow on the podcast if he keeps this up. O’Bryant has improved dramatically, almost suspiciously, to the point that he’s gone from “barely playable” to “getting minutes over Giannis in crunch time” in the span of a few months.

While he still struggles to stay on balance and control passes and rebounds in traffic, he’s vastly improved as an overall offensive player. He hit a couple of key jumpers Wednesday, including the go-ahead basket with just over a minute to play. Most importantly, it’s obvious that he’s confident in that jumper, shooting with almost no hesitation when he’s open. What impressed me most, though, was his quick touch pass to Monroe for a dunk late in the fourth quarter. It’s a simple play, sure, but not one he would have made with such ease (or even at all) last season.

Tyler Ennis, PG 15 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | -6 +/-

With Michael Carter-Williams still out, Ennis made another start at point guard. He did all of his damage in the first quarter, knocking down a pair of long jumpers to go with a nice drive past Emmanuel Mudiay for an early layup. Both jump shots entailed a high degree of difficulty and came late in the shot clock.

John Henson, PF 15 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -7 +/-

On a night when the Nuggets’ bigs gave the Bucks trouble, it was odd to see Henson play only 15 minutes. He was on the floor with Giannis, Rashad Vaughn, Middleton and Bayless to begin the fourth, but Monroe returned at the 9:18 mark, likely because the Bucks hadn’t scored in more than four minutes. Henson remained on the bench the rest of the way. He was fairly quiet, overall, but did have this nice swooping lay-in in the first quarter.

Henson and Monroe have not played a single minute together this season. Obviously, both players are viewed as centers, and centers only, but at some point you have think Kidd will give the “twin towers” lineup a look. Henson is a far superior defender to Monroe, and he’s not quiet as limited offensively as it may sometimes appear. Kidd has been more than willing to pair Monroe and O’Bryant, and I’m not sure Henson and Monroe couldn’t work together in short stretches.

I know I just gushed about O’Bryant’s jumper, but he’s still not a true “floor spacer.” The issue is that a Henson-Monroe pairing would force Monroe to defend the power forward position, an experiment that failed miserably for several years in Detroit.

Greivis Vasquez, PG 33 MIN | 6-14 FG | 3-8 3FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +5 +/-

Vasquez finally provided the offensive spark the Bucks were waiting for, finishing with 15 points and nine assists with just two turnovers off the bench. He got things going early, hitting a long three near the end of the first quarter and following up with 12 points, including two more threes, in the second. Heading into halftime, he and Bayless were a combined 9-of-11 from the field and 5-of-6 from three as the Bucks held an 11-point lead. The floater was out in full force in the first half, leading Marques Johnson to at one point exclaim what we were all thinking: “He’s in his full Vasquez-ness!!”

With the Bucks up 41-40 midway through the second, the pair went on a personal 14-point run early in the second quarter, starting with a Bayless three, followed by a Vasquez jumper, then back-to-back threes from Bayless and Vasquez. The Nuggets then called timeout with the deficit up to nine.

Naturally, Vasquez cooled off considerably after halftime, going 0-for-6 from the field and rimming out on a trio of threes within a three-and-a-half-minute span in the fourth quarter.

Jerryd Bayless, PG 28 MIN | 7-10 FG | 3-3 3FG | 5-6 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | +3 +/-

Bayless almost singlehandedly willed the Bucks back into this game, scoring 15 fourth-quarter points on a mixture of free throws, drives and jumpers. He was noticeably active defensively, forcing a couple of steals and setting the tone as Milwaukee clawed back into the game after falling behind by 13 with just over nine minutes to play. Bayless knocked down a three at the 1:54 mark to tie the game at 98, and he assisted on an O’Bryant jumper that gave the Bucks the lead on the ensuing possession.

Of note: Bayless had only one 20-point game in 2014-15. He already has two in nine tries this season.

Rashad Vaughn, SG 10 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -4 +/-

With Parker and MCW out, there were rumblings that Vaughn could make his first career start, but that ultimately did not end up being the case. Vaughn did enter the game in the first quarter, though, but his lone shot attempt – a long three from the left wing – came early in the fourth. With the Bucks desperate for offense at the time, Kidd opened with Vaughn, Giannis, Henson, Bayless and Vasquez to start the fourth.

Four Things We Saw

  1. Your nightly Giannis Vine recap:
    Chasedown block on Randy Foye
    -Baseline drive and nice right-handed finish
    Huuuuuge (Trump voice) block on Nikola Jokic early in the fourth
    -This one doesn’t involve Giannis, but Faried answered with an even bigger block on Bayless later in the quarter.
  2. As much as Giannis has improved, it’s obvious that he’s still not completely comfortable as a perimeter shooter. He attempted three three-pointers Wednesday – that’s a good number for him – but at one point he passed up a look so open it was puzzling to watch in real time. For whatever reason, his defender, J.J. Hickson, was doubling Monroe in the lane, giving Giannis literally 20 feet of space on the perimeter. Rather than taking the shot, Giannis drove DIRECTLY into where his defender, and Monroe’s defender, were standing, resulting in an out-of-control spin move that was (rightfully) called a travel. Again, Giannis has already shown improvement as a three-point shooter, and he’ll probably make six or seven times the number of threes he hit last season, but he’s still not as confident in the shot as Milwaukee would like.
  3. I irrationally love Will Barton and have nothing more to say on the matter.
  4. The Bucks did not attempt a free throw in the first half, as Denver was whistled for only four fouls. When all was said and done, Milwaukee had only nine attempts as a team, with Bayless (5-6) and O’Bryant (3-3) accounting for all nine.

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  1. No grade for Kidd? I’ve been a little disappointed in him last night and the Celtics game. When it’s tied late or you’re up 1 don’t throw up tough far shots. Feed Monroe it’s what he’s there for and he can finish many takes. That play draw up when tied to give Middleton a 3 attempt with 40 seconds left was a really bad move to me. With a minute or more sure. But 40 seconds? Get the easy 2 and play good D if OT happens so be it. These last two games the Bucks have looked vey lackadaisical. Too many easy points in the paint by opponents. Also does anyone know what the heck is up with Mayo? How bad is his injury? He played in preseason so how did he get hurt? We need some more shooting threat in the second unit because asking Bayless to shoulder the load can’t keep happening.

  2. Very foreboding comments from Marques Johnson at halftime, when the Bucks were up 64 – 53. Marques said something along the lines of, can this just be the end of the game?… You would think a young team would be able be best equipped to handle the altitude and back-to-back games… but that third quarter was just sad.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the Bucks are terrible at executing the plays drawn up at timeouts (that, or the plays themselves are lackluster). It seems like Bucks timeout = turnover and fast break points for opponent… a 4 point swing. Kills momentum. They were so bad out of timeouts with Larry Drew, I don’t think they are at that level, but it is starting to remind me a bit of that.

    I agree, at the end of the games, when you need gimme buckets – get it to Monroe. That’s what he is here for! Middleton has shown he’s comfortable taking late game shots, but this one was not a great look…

    If we see some hustle and high energy, there’s the potential they can take on Cleveland, but I’m a little nervous about Saturday night…