Zaza and Co. nearly wrestled a victory away from the Knicks.
It’s time to face the facts. Milwaukee will not be the first NBA team in history to finish 82-0. Take a moment to let that sink in. It’s difficult, I know.
After falling behind by double-digits at halftime, the Bucks nearly shocked the Knicks on opening night before ultimately falling 90-83 at Madison Square Garden. Behind the Buck Pass has you covered on the good, the bad, and the in-between from Wednesday’s game:
- Zaza Freaking Pachulia: I can’t confirm whether that is, indeed, his middle name, but he definitely earned it Wednesday. The veteran was thrust into action with Larry Sanders picking up FIVE fouls in just 12 minutes. Pachulia fished with 13 points (6-10 FG), 11 rebounds, three assists and a couple of steals in 34 minutes. Milwaukee received plenty of flack this offseason for signing him (I was leading the charge on that one), but Pachulia almost single-handedly kept the Bucks in the game for parts of the second half. Ideally, he won’t be playing 30+ minutes regularly, but his ability to score inside offers a nice change of pace to Sanders’ defense-above-all mentality.
- Light Mayo: Mayo forced a couple long threes early in the game (though the shot clock was a factor), but he let the game come to him and made sound decisions in the second half when the Bucks began to claw back into the game. Though he finished with a quiet 13 points (6-12 FG, 0-3 3Pt), he was facing an elite perimeter defender in Iman Shumpert.
- Gary Neal (kind of): At one point in the first half, it appeared Neal was on a mission to attempt as many shots as humanly possible. But then he, like Mayo, settled in as the game progressed and ended up finishing with a team-high 16 points. With Knight out of the game and Ilyasova limited with an ankle injury, Neal had no choice but to take on a large portion of the offensive burden. This will be one of the rare nights he attempts 16 shots, but his shooting was key in the second half surge.
- Larry Sanders: Heading into the season, Sanders faced two burning questions: Could he improve his shooting around the basket? And, could he stay out of foul trouble? Judging from Wednesday, the answer to both is a resounding “no.” Yes, I know, it’s just one game and he was matched up with a physical center in Tyson Chandler, but picking up FIVE FOULS IN 12 MINUTES is simply unacceptable from a player of his caliber. It wasn’t that Sanders necessarily played poorly – he was every bit as active as we expected in the time he was out there – but he needs to learn to recognize when offenses are targeting him (New York did so early) and adjust accordingly. Sanders is simply too valuable to this defense to be watching from the sideline for three quarters.
- Knightmare: Less than two minutes into the game, Brandon Knight fell to the floor in a heap clutching his right hamstring. He was diagnosed with a strain and did not return. With Knight out of the game and Luke Ridnour sitting with a sore back, Nate Wolters saw his first NBA action much earlier than anticipated (see below). At this point it’s unclear when Knight will be back, but he appeared to be in some pretty severe pain so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he missed more than a game or two.
- Ersan’s Ankle: Let me be clear: Ersan played far from poorly; in fact, he put together probably the second-best performance of the night behind Pachulia. He returned to action for the first time since injuring his ankle in the preseason opener against Cleveland and looked great in 20 minutes off the bench, knocking down a few jumpers en route to 10 points on 5-of-6 from the field. However, he played sparingly in the second half – sitting out the entire fourth quarter – and Larry Drew revealed after the game that Ilyasova was experiencing pain in his ankle. It’s no reason to panic, but any injury-related news belongs in “the bad” category in my book.
-Wolters’ Debut: After Knight went down, Wolters checked into his first NBA game with more than 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Safe to say that’s juuuuust a bit earlier than expected. Wolters was a little skittish at first, throwing some sloppy passes and just generally looking nervous, which is totally understandable. In the second half, however, he settled in and began to control the offense, playing an integral role in the comeback. He worked nicely in the P&R with Pachulia and was able to get into the lane, but he finished just 3-of-12 from the field in 30 minutes.
- Caron Butler: 14 points? Not bad. 5-of-9 from the field? We’ll take it. Four rebounds? Solid. Seven turnovers? Not so much. Butler kept the Bucks in the game in the first half and hit a key three-pointer during Milwaukee’s fourth quarter run, but seven turnovers are a quick way to erase positive contributions.
-Luke Ridnour will head back to Milwaukee to have his back examined by team doctors, and it’s unknown whether he’ll join the team in Boston on Friday. As of now, it appears he’ll miss his second straight game, and assuming Knight is out as well, Wolters and Neal will again handle point guard duties.
-Giannis Antetokounmpo played just five minutes (all in the first half) and did not attempt a field goal. He chipped in a point on a free throw and picked up two quick fouls. Drew seemed to have a short leash with the rookie despite his very encouraging preseason.