The Bucks left their best until very last Friday night, finishing powerfully on both ends, finally snatching a 109-104 victory against the shorthanded Hornets. Milwaukee controlled the lead for the majority of the first quarter and half, before letting Charlotte take control. The Hornets scored 36 points in the second quarter, taking a 7 point lead into the main break an ensuring yet another grind it out victory was going to be required for the Bucks against a lower ranked opposition.
A Kemba Walker layup with 2:28 left in the game pushed the Hornets lead to 104-100. From that moment on, the Bucks dominated.
A 9-0 run to finish the game, with all points bar one Eric Bledsoe free throw coming at the rim, as the Bucks attacked relentlessly. On the defensive side the Bucks put the clamps on. Two forced turnovers and a Jeremy Lamb double blocked shot from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe sealed the hard fought, at times frustrating, but certainly relieving victory for Milwaukee.
Adding insult to injury for the Hornets was two injuries to key players Friday night. Center Dwight Howard, so often dominant against Milwaukee was taken out of the game early after dislocating his left ring finger in a case of friendly fire with Marvin Williams. Howard jammed his finger against Williams hand whilst reaching for a rebound. Walker on the other hand went down in pain after losing the ball late in the last quarter with an undisclosed injury. As of early Saturday morning, the status of both for tonight’s return bout is questionable. Given Howard’s spoken of dominance against Milwaukee and Walker’s offensive prowess, it would be a diabolical blow to their chances of revenge.
Before going down, Walker had torched the Bucks with 32 points, including 4 three pointers. The Hornets, as mentioned in yesterdays game preview, are not a strong shooting team from deep. Despite this they yet again found a way to get open looks and knock them down, with the team as group, making 46% of their tries.
The Bucks were again carried by their big three, with Giannis, Bledsoe and Khris Middleton combing for 78 points. Yet again Malcolm Brogdon led the second unit with 14 points, 8 of those coming in the final 5:03 of the third, a stretch in which the Bucks closed the deficit from 8 back to 2 points.
Looking forward, the Bucks rotation had a sense of normalcy to it (if that’s even possible with a Jason Kidd team), with Tony Snell returning to the starting line-up. As expected the Bucks used a long rotation, consisting of 11 players with the back to back in mind. This should be expected again tonight. Newest Buck Sean Kilpatrick earned his first minutes since signing his two-way deal last week and made a strong first impression. In ten minutes he logged 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. A solid debut for the deer.
As mentioned yesterday, sweeping home and home sets is a tough task, irrespective of the opposition. The second half presents a road challenge for the Bucks who found no answers for the Hornets shooting when they visited the Buzz City in early November. The health of Walker and Howard will play a huge part in the pre-game chances of a Bucks win, but regardless, they will have their work cut out for them.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Milwaukee’s Death Line-up: The Bucks online fan base has been screaming for more small ball line-ups since the Greek Freak began to morph into a superstar last season. Despite this, it has rarely been utilised. Last night we not only seen some Giannis at the five, but Khris Middleton took his turn leading a small ball line-up. With Dwight Howard out early, it made sense. Lets be honest, any time you can matchup Johnny O’Bryant against Giannis, you do it, and quickly. Regardless of Dwight’s availability, the flexibility it affords Milwaukee on offense is frightening. Give us more!
- Help For Big Three (Plus Brogdon): It’s no secret who the Bucks offensive weapons are. Stop them and you probably win. Again last night, the big three plus Brogdon combined for 92 out of 109 total points. A staggering percentage. The Bucks need two of Tony Snell, Matthew Dellavedova, Thon Maker, John Henson, Sean Kilpatrick and Sterling Brown to get some points on the board and lighten the load on those top four. The reliance at the top end for Milwaukee is getting unhealthy, the depth is there, lets see some performance.
- Attack, Attack, Attack!: 48 points in the paint last night for Milwaukee, though only 11 fast break points. These numbers should both increase tonight, especially if Howard is out. We seen late in the game the Hornets have no answer for the Bucks if Giannis, Bledsoe and co. are attacking the rim. Surround those two with shooters, spread the floor and get some easy points. The Hornets are slumping hard right now, if the Bucks can create separation early with relentless attack, they could find the going a little easier then last night.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus.