The Milwaukee Bucks, fresh of a winning road/home back-to-back, welcome the suddenly struggling Memphis Grizzlies to the BMO Harris Bradley Center Monday night. In a refreshing turn of events, the Bucks were able to beat both San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers behind extremely strong defensive performances. Prior to the weekend wins, the Bucks had given up an average of 116 points in their last four games, all losses. Conceding only 87 points to the Spurs and 90 to the Lakers was extremely pleasing as the much publicized defensive scheme clicked finally. History tells Bucks fans to express caution with this latest development, but as was shown in both contests, a solid defensive game can lead to victories when the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders.
The Bucks were far from their best on the offensive end against the Lakers, struggling from the floor, only shooting 41% from the field (starting 4-20) and 26% from deep. After only getting back to Milwaukee in the early hours of Saturday, the Bucks looked sluggish and tired from the outset, none more so then prized acquisition Eric Bledsoe. After dazzling with his speed and explosiveness against the Spurs, Bledsoe looked every bit like a player that hasn’t played in a few weeks. He recorded 5 turnovers and only 2 assists while shooting 4-13 from the field and 0-6 from deep. Bledsoe is a 33% career three point shooter, by no means elite, although certainly much better then he displayed in this one, lucky to hit rim on any of those attempts from long range.
When asked post game by Eric Nehm, how difficult it was to return after not playing for a few weeks Bledsoe responded: “I thought it was going to be easy.” Followed by a laugh.
The first impressions of the fit between Giannis and Bledsoe have been excellant but as to be expected it may take a few weeks for the newest Buck to round into game shape. Luckily for Milwaukee, an off night from Bledsoe was well and truly covered by the Greek Freak again grabbing the game by the throat and simply not allowing the result to slip away. Antetokounmpo finished with a now stock-standard line of 33 points and 15 rebounds, ably assisted by the ever steady Malcolm Brogdon with 16 points, 3 assists and 3 steals. I’ve always said a sign of a good team is being able to win games at home when you are not at your best, for that reason this was a pleasing victory to secure.
The quality of opposition will go up a few cogs Monday though, as the Grizzlies come in desperate for a victory after losing 4 of their last 6 games. The Grizzlies, not surprisingly are built on stellar defense, ranked third in the league for opposition ppg (99.1), one of only 5 teams holding opposition to under 100 points. This combined with excellent ball security, the Grizzlies average the least amount of turnovers per game (13.1), will ensure the Bucks will have to come in a hell of a lot sharper then they did against LA.
The two mainstays on the Memphis roster, center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley continue to keep this Grizzlies roster competitive in the stacked Western Conference, both averaging over 18 points per contest. The surprise packet so far this season though has been off-season signing, veteran guard Tyreke Evans. Signing a one year, 3.2 million dollar deal in the summer, Evans has produced at a level well above his pay grade. Going at 17.8 points a contest, his highest average since the 2010/11 season, Evans is providing the Grizzlies with a much needed third scoring option on a team that did appear to lack that luxury before the season started.
The Bucks and Grizzlies have split the season series the past three years, with the home team winning each contest. A streak Milwaukee will aim to keep alive in their quest to get back over .500 on the season. I continue to harp on the Bucks putrid rebounding thus far, and again this battle could be crucial to the outcome of the game with the two teams ranked last in the league, the only two teams to average under 40 boards a game. Thon Maker who has been somewhat disappointing to this point, had arguably his best game for the season against LA, returning to bringing the high level of hustle and energy we have learned to enjoy. Maker, whilst only scoring 2 points and grabbing 5 boards, threw his body around, chasing boards, saving possessions and forcing jump balls. Thon still has a ton of development ahead of him if he’s to become a legit starting center but for now it’s that type of effort that he needs to bring on a nightly basis to somewhat cover up his obvious flaws in other areas.
Milwaukee has started the season 3-1 against the Western Conference but may face their biggest challenge yet Monday night. After a night off to catch some rest hopefully we will see a tidier offensive performance from the Bucks, certainly a requirement against the miserly Grizzlies defense. The Bucks are 2-0 in the Bledsoe era, here’s hoping they can make that 3-0 with another important home victory, continuing to rise up in the Eastern Conference standings log jam. Improving their home record was a key factor heading into the 17/18 season, so far the Bucks stand at 3-2 at the Bradley Center, it’s imperative they continue to win games like this in order to make the leap they think they can.
Make sure to tune in Monday night, this one should be fun.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus.