Milwaukee vs Portland: home heartbreak for cash

After a long absence from the Fiserv Forum, the Milwaukee Bucks returned to Wisconsin and opened a six-game home stand with a rematch of the recently dispatched Portland Trail Blazers. Unfortunately, the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo meant the hometown heroes were stretched even further than usual, and the Blazers were able to fight their way to a double-digit victory.

As a data point on the team’s chances in the playoffs or areas needing attention, this contest is next to useless. No Giannis (late scratch with ankle pain), no Pat Connaughton (hand) or Brook Lopez (back) or George Hill (neck), no Giannis, Game 1 without Donte DiVincenzo (who drove in 12 runs, 8 rebounds and 5 steals in a loss to the Kings) and Game 1 with Serge Ibaka (more on him in a bit), and did I mention any Giannis? It’s still a real game and it counts in the standings, but when it’s mid-February and you’re missing so many huge chunks of the playoff rotation, sometimes you just have to accept the result like another bump in the road and heading for you at the next opportunity.

three things

We got our first good look at Serge Ibaka in his debut game as Buck. When the starting line-ups were announced, Serge was listed as the forward (replacing Giannis) and Bobby Portis as the team’s centre. Coming from Los Angeles, there were myriad concerns about Ibaka, between his mobility, availability and offensive form. The good news, at least for one night, is that Ibaka can still move there. In 31 minutes, Ibaka posted modest totals of 6 points and 7 rebounds, but he backed up his pregame claims that he was 100 percent. While the outcome of this game conveys very little, incorporating Ibaka into a fully refreshed playoff rotation could, in theory, have a PJ Tucker-like impact on the team. Perhaps not to the same degree, and certainly in different ways that Tucker contributed, but an impact nonetheless if Jon Horst turns out to have made the right choice. From Horst’s interview with The Athletic:

Last year we did it in a 6-6, 6-7 PJ Tucker package. This year we did it in a 6-10 Serge Ibaka package. I see this as a move similar to PJ, having a chance of having a similar impact. I don’t know if Serge will keep ones and twos like PJ Tucker did, but I think Serge can keep fours and fives in a different way than PJ Tucker did.

Milwaukee’s lack of guarding depth has them badly burned tonight. It’s easy to look at the box score and note the productive outings of Portland’s Anfernee Simons (31 points, including 7 for 16 of three) and newcomer Josh Hart (27 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, including 5 for 9 to three). Those opposing outings are frustrating indeed, but when you get honest minutes from Lindell Wigginton (17 of them, and he was a team record +13 on the night!) alongside a nothing-burger from Wes Matthews (1 rebound and 1 steal in nearly 18 minutes), there’s not much to look forward to. Ideally, the buyout market adds a guard with momentum (Goran Dragic, anyone?) and George Hill and Pat Connaughton will return one day, hopefully one day soon. In fact, it should be sooner than expected for Pat!

Bad Khris game + Bad Jrue game – Giannis in the game = disaster. The American-born members of the Bucks’ Big Three each struggled to leave a positive mark on this game, though it’s a fair argument that Milwaukee’s shallow depth put them at a significant disadvantage in the first place. Either way, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday each struggled, and with no reinforcements elsewhere on the roster, those struggles reduced the Bucks’ chances. There was a distinct lack of discipline or execution in attack, and whatever that was, the result was the same (ugly).

Khris Middleton nearly landed a triple-double (16 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists), but was 3 for 15 from the field (20.0%) and committed 4 turnovers. Jrue Holiday led Milwaukee in scoring (23 points and 6 assists), but his seven turnovers were more than double his per-game average and fueled Portland in offering goods. Those 11 turnovers combined were huge, especially considering the Bucks only committed 13 total turnovers as a team. Maybe if either had a better outing, things would have turned out differently, but without Giannis’ transcendence to smooth out all the wrinkles, the Bucks are more prone to losses like this when both Middleton and Holiday have a rough night. If the basketball gods agree, we won’t have to deal with this issue in the playoffs.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Serge Ibaka actually scored the team’s first six points tonight. He got on the board with a hook shot, a wide open dunk and a nice mid ranger, all in the opening minutes of the first quarter. He failed to score a single point for the rest of the match, however, confirming that Ibaka was not signed for his offense.
  • If it hadn’t been for the second quarter, Milwaukee would have won the game by a single point! The first, third and fourth periods had gaps of 31-30 (Blazers), 24-23 (Bucks) and 29-28 (Bucks again). But they didn’t win the second quarter, not by far.
  • Not to mention, Jusuf Nurkic capped off the Blazers’ productive night with an outing of 23 points and 14 rebounds. Nurk was matched against smaller Bucks defensemen on several occasions, which in this game applied to every Bucks defenseman in uniform.
  • Jordan Nwora set sail for the summit and was met there by Justise Winslow. The result… was not pretty for Nwora.

But let’s be real…it was a nice piece. What a block, and clean too. For example, this block was dusted, sanded, wiped down, re-varnished, polished and left to dry in a sterile environment, that’s how clean this block was.

  • No surprise here, given how many players were missing in Milwaukee, but Portland fought their way onto the boards, winning the rebound battle 44-37.
  • The defense has changed a lot tonight, which is almost obvious since Ibaka and Portis were the only big players available tonight (no offense to Sandro Mamukelashvili, but his development is ongoing). Change is, say, better for the Bucks in small doses, from what we’ve seen.
  • Despite a similar number of attempts, Milwaukee lost the double-digit three-point accuracy category, 41.9 percent (18 of 43) to 31.7 percent (13 of 41). That was likely fueled by Portlands’ advantage in the assists column, as the Blazers recorded 30 to the Bucks paltry 18.
  • I’m glad I missed this during one of the stoppages. Y’all, I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but treat this like the Reverse Eating Cam and just…don’t do it.

No, I don’t know what the outcome of the proposal was, and no, I don’t intend to find out. But congratulations to the happy couple(s) I guess!

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