Milwaukee completes the second half of a rare home back-to-back Saturday night, as the Utah Jazz visit the Bradley Center in the last meeting between the pair this season. After securing a tougher then you’d like victory over Dallas last night, the Bucks will be out to seek further revenge, against a Jazz team that comprehensively handled them on the 26th of November in Utah.
It was to the surprise of no one: another monster effort from the Bucks “big three” that allowed the Bucks to escape with a win in a game throughout which they were trailing for the majority of the night. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton combined for 82 points in another dominant group performance. Middleton got the game MVP honours in this one though, a series of clutch jump shots ensuring the Bucks took the lead and closed out.
With the scores tied at 95 with 4:38 left, Middleton took over, scoring 12 points including a huge four point play that allowed the Bucks to pull away. Finishing the night with 31 points with 5 three point makes, Middleton delivered an All-Star calibre performance when his team needed it the most.
The Bucks will now face a tough Jazz team that picked apart their defense with extraordinary ease last time they met. Utah, now bolstered by the return of All-NBA big man Rudy Gobert, possesses an elite defense with a dangerous inside-outside offense. Coming off of two consecutive losses to Houston and Oklahoma City, the .500 Jazz will be looking for a bounce back performance.
In their last matchup it was a familiar story of misery for the Bucks, as the Jazz scorched the Bucks shooting the ball. Utah finished shooting 56% from both the field and from deep, as they knocked down 18 triples. Sensational rookie Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles combined to knock down 11-18 from three, time after time, sticking a dagger in a Bucks’ comeback attempt.
A huge challenge facing the Bucks is how they will handle Gobert. The Bucks’ particularly futile rebounding will be put to the test against one of the best rebounders in the league. In two contests against the Bucks last year Gobert averaged 20.5 points and 15 rebounds a night, well up on his 14 point, 12.8 rebound averages.
In a pleasing development, second year Buck Thon Maker was able to earn the majority of the minutes at center last night, finally looking capable of having an impact on the glass. In 27 minutes, Maker grabbed 8 rebounds and swatted two shots, providing the effort and energy the Bucks desperately needed down the stretch.
With Tony Snell again set to miss, and Matthew Dellavedova also still sidelined, the Bucks’ second unit will again be searching for someone to contribute outside of Malcolm Brogdon. Other than Brogdon’s 14 points, the Bucks’ second unit only managed 9 points last night, and that simply won’t be good enough against a much tougher opposition in Utah.
With the Bucks now 14-10 on the season, and 10-4 since acquiring Bledsoe, continuing to win at home and climb in the standings is crucial for Milwaukee, in what continues to be a tight Eastern Conference.
A victory won’t be easy, but these are my key points of focus before tip:
- Contain Rudy Gobert: The Bucks need to keep Gobert to under 3 offensive boards. Second chance opportunities often produce open three pointers and the Bucks need to avoid giving up these chances.
- Three point defense: The Bucks simply can not give up the ridiculous amount of open looks they allowed in Utah or you can forget winning this one. Since that night the Bucks have been switching a lot more on defense rather then trapping the ball handler. This has been far more effective. Hopefully Jason Kidd learnt his lesson.
- Second unit scoring: Whether it’s Rashad Vaughn, Sterling Brown or Thon Maker, the Bucks need to get 20 points out of the bench outside of Brogdon. If they do this they will be hard to beat with the “big three” in the form that they are.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus