Milwaukee travels to Indiana to face the Pacers for the second time in a week. They will be hoping for a similar result to last Wednesday night when the Bucks cruised to a 122-101 victory. Only hitch in that plan is the return of likely All-Star, Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo returned Saturday night as the Pacers hosted Chicago and he picked up right where he left off. Losers of five straight before that game, Oladipo sparked Indiana to a 39 point annihilation of the hapless Bulls, finishing with 23 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 5 steals in only 23 minutes. Astounding numbers. The Pacers offense had fallen in a hole to average only 95 points a game with their leading man on the sidelines. The response was immediate as they racked up 101 points through three quarters and with a 34 point lead in hand, where able to put their starters on ice.
Milwaukee has played twice since the win against Indiana, splitting a weekend back to back. The Bucks were simply awful in the second half at home against Toronto, a 2 point half time deficit blowing out to 29 mid way through the fourth quarter. They eventually were able to save some face in reducing the margin to lose by 19. Friday night against the Wizards at one stage appeared heading in the same direction as the lacklustre Bucks fell behind by 11 nearing halftime, before surging back to tie the game at the main break.
In Washington, Giannis Antetokounmpo had to leave the game with 5 fouls with just over 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. When he returned Milwaukee were still down 4 with 3:01 left. Then the takeover began. 6 points, 2 rebounds and a block in the final three minutes for Giannis and yet another clutch three from Eric Bledsoe ensured the Bucks steamed home to impressively win, 110-103.
Often questioned on his ability to knock down jump shots, Giannis had ice in his veins down the stretch. Cooly swishing a turnaround mid range jumper on Markieff Morris and then moments later facing up Kelly Oubre Jr and knocking down another mid ranger to seal the victory. In a simply amazing, MVP calibre performance, Giannis finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals.
An interesting stretch in the schedule that sees Milwaukee face Indiana, Toronto and Washington twice in a very short period brings a familiarity between teams and room for adjustments. After losing both contests to Toronto, the Bucks have beaten both the Pacers and Wizards in their first match ups of the new year. A second win against Indiana is certainly gettable but this is an entirely different squad to the Oladipo-less Pacers they met last Wednesday.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Slow Down Sabonis: Though the Bucks cruised to an easy victory last time against Indiana it wasn’t all plain sailing for the deer. The other key piece in the Paul George trade to Oklahoma City, second year big man Domantas Sabonis was absolutely dominant against the Milwaukee defense. The Bucks threw Thon Maker, John Henson and even Khris Middleton at times on Sabonis but no one could slow him down as he finished with 24 points on 10-13 shooting. It was a procession to the rim as he was able to back the Bucks defense to whatever spot he wanted to before finishing with ease. With no offensive support, it was merely a frustration for Milwaukee without actually causing any doubt about the result. With help now on the scene, the Bucks will need to ensure they do a better job on the Gonzaga product.
- Killer Bench Unit: A wild day of roster moves for the Bucks yesterday eventually resulted in Sean Kilpatrick earning himself a guaranteed deal through the rest of the season. In only five appearances for the Bucks as a two-way contracted player Kilpatrick has averaged 5.2 points in his 9 minutes per game. An instant spark on offense, Kilpatrick now figures to see an extended role with DeAndre Liggins out of his way. With the improved play of Maker and Matthew Dellavedova since the turn of the new year, Milwaukee finally look like they have a capable bench squad for the first time this season. With the Pacers finding their offensive groove last start, the Bucks will need contributions all the way down the roster. Kilpatrick might just be the man for the job.
- Small Ball Is The Goal: Despite the Bucks struggles containing Sabonis, on paper they don’t exactly possess the most intimidating front line. With Myles Turner the only other real damaging big man, the Bucks should be able to find time to run with Giannis at center. The Bucks are by far at their most damaging when they run the ball and get out in transition. Tonight presents a golden opportunity for the Bucks go ‘small’ and pick up the tempo. Bledsoe, Brogdon, Snell, Middleton, Giannis is a lineup that we should start to see a little more of. Why not tonight?
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus