Milwaukee’s defense showed up in spurts Monday night, doing just enough to arrest control late and as a result, win their third straight contest, coming against a typically tough Memphis outfit. After ending the first quarter with a 34-29 lead, the Bucks were all at sea in the second quarter, as Memphis made 11 of their first 12 shot attempts and turned a 7 point deficit into a 5 point lead heading into the locker room.
I have absolutely no idea what was in the gatorade at halftime, but a completely different Bucks team came out in the third quarter, holding the Grizzlies to a season low 12 points for the quarter, besting the 15 points they limited the Celtics to in the second quarter at the MECCA. We’ve seen this much maligned defense click at times, with great results, unfortunately those times have been few and far between.
When asked post-game what the difference was with the defense in the third quarter Giannis had a slightly troubling response saying;
“We just came out and tried to play harder.”
The Bucks were absolutely manic on that end in the third, that can’t be denied. The frustrating thing to handle is we know that it takes that extreme level of effort to get positive results. Its simply not sustainable on a regular basis. From the brilliant third quarter the Bucks held on late for a 110-103 victory, this despite the Grizzlies arresting the lead back mid way through the fourth.
DeAndre Liggins, an unheralded addition to the Bucks roster just before the season began, has proven to be an absolute delight to watch, terrorising opposition players on the defensive end. Liggins, the 29 year old basketball journeyman signed with the Bucks on October 16, just two days before their season opener in Boston. Now believe me, I don’t use the term journeyman lightly, Liggins began the offseason with Dallas before being passed around to Houston, the LA Clippers, Atlanta and Miami before landing in Milwaukee, six (!!) different teams in the space of 6 months. For this reason Liggins is desperate to latch on to a role with the Bucks and he, as much as anyone on the second unit, is earning every second of court time he gets. Liggins drew a jump-ball, took a charge, hit the floor to save balls and deflected anything in his area, each sensational defensive effort drawing a scream and fist pump to the delight of the Bradley Center crowd. Whilst certainly not being a player you want to see handle the ball, Liggins through sheer will has earnt his spot in the rotation and looks set to continue to be a defensive spark plug, a valuable one at that.
The Bucks three game winning streak will face it’s biggest test yet on Wednesday night as barnstorming Detroit Pistons, winners in 8 of their last 9, make their first visit to Milwaukee for the season. The Pistons latest winning streak, currently sitting at five, began on November 4, with a 105-96 beatdown of the Bucks in downtown Detroit.
In that game the Bucks were killed at the free-throw line, -19 in attempts as Andre Drummond, a career 39% free-throw shooter, went a ridiculous 14-16 from the charity stripe, effectively killing off any hope of a Milwaukee win. Drummond again looms large as the Bucks biggest threat to victory, Milwaukee simply not possessing the size and strength at the five to stop him. In that brutal loss, Drummond continually found position deep in the paint, rendering the defense useless and drawing contact getting to the line.
John Henson in the middle of a patented hot streak, needs to find away to deny Drummond deep paint touches, forcing the ball out of his hands, limiting easy buckets.
The Pistons posses a lightening quick point guard duo of Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith. Newly minted Buck Eric Bledsoe, still finding his legs after an extended break from game-time in Phoenix will have his work cut out in this one. An excellent defender, Bledsoe possesses the necessary lateral quickness to stay in front of the dynamic duo, something the Bucks simply haven’t had at the point guard spot in a long, long time. In recent years, any time the Bucks squared off against a lightening quick guard it spelled disaster. Not anymore, keep an eye on Bledsoe on the defensive end, and look for him to cut off penetration and pressure the ball handler in ways we haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing in the past.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had a rare inefficient night scoring the ball by his standards in Detroit, often settling for long jump shots finishing 13/27 from the field and 1/4 from deep. If there’s one thing we know about Giannis, he doesn’t take losing well and i expect him to attack the paint hard, new running buddy Bledsoe should make this an easier task, both players getting open looks for shooters Middleton, Brogdon, Delly and co.
Make no mistake, the Pistons are on fire right now, this one won’t be easy but from the players, to the coaches, to the announcers, to the fans. Excitement is building, and if the Bucks can halt the Pistons run, its only going to go up a couple more notches.
Tip-off is at 7pm central, this one should be a beauty.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus.