Game in Review: Milwaukee Bucks @ Phoenix Suns – December 21


Lackadaisical play by the Phoenix Suns helps the Milwaukee Bucks to an unexpected victory to cap tough road trip.

Starting Lineups – Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Carter-Williams, OJ Mayo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe

Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, PJ Tucker, Jon Leuer, Tyson Chandler

As the Bucks road trip out west continued, the team found themselves under the bright desert sun in Arizona to take on the Phoenix Suns, and more importantly, former Buck Brandon Knight. Both teams have struggled far more than pegged before the season, and early playoff aspirations have dimmed considerably thanks to slow starts on the year.

The best subplots heading into tonight were obviously the first game for Brandon Knight against his former team and the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo due to knee tendonitis issues. Knight has become an integral piece to a Suns offense that is heavily guard dominated, and he enters tonight averaging 19.9 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 4.3 RPG on .443/.356/.820 shooting across the floor. Could the Bucks ensure he had a quiet night?

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As has been a staple for Bucks games this year, a flurry of turnovers got both teams going early with the pace ratcheting up, and on the whole, Milwaukee’s defense was keyed up from the start, especially smothering Phoenix’s guards in a movement heavy offense.

Surprisingly, the first sub off the bench for Milwaukee was… Chris Copeland? Indeed, he provided a critical zero points, zero assists, and zero rebounds in eight minutes of play for a -8 rating.

Physicality helped push the Bucks to a solid lead throughout, but a sudden 11-0 run by Phoenix’s subs and a variety of wide open threes reduced the lead at the pause to 27-26 in favor of Milwaukee. While the Bucks kept the Suns starters grounded, the bench unit got hot in a hurry.

Ball movement in the second started to crack a suddenly scrambling Bucks defense, and an on-again, off-again Phoenix offense began to click behind the lead of sophomore forward TJ Warren, who converted 14 quick points on 7-9 shooting with active off-ball movement and some pretty simple dribble-drive moves.

Additionally, the Suns started forcing turnovers and pushing the ball up the floor with speed, leading to easy baskets in transition off five Buck turnovers. The return of the starters did little to help Milwaukee, though sloppy play by Phoenix late gave Milwaukee another string of at-the-rim shots.

A Jabari Parker shooting foul on a PJ Tucker three as time expired allowed Phoenix to solidify their lead at 45-53. Interestingly, the Bucks starters outscored the Suns’, 40-21, yet an eight point Phoenix lead was the half result. A problem? Probably. Likely. Most definitely.

While the third got underway, it was odd noticing how little Milwaukee does on offense outside of the paint. Yes, Jerryd Bayless was fantastic from distance and helped spacing, but beyond the occasional Khris Middleton jumper, every other possession is at the rim. That sort of strategy is a benefit when you’ve got the movement and pace to keep an opponent reacting, but thus far Milwaukee lacked those traits.

Greg Monroe’s early third and fourth fouls in the quarter certainly defused a large component of the interior game, and uninspiring effort across the board made for an uninspiring watch. A new lineup with MCW, Khris Middleton, Rashad Vaughn, Johnny O’Bryant, and John Henson, however, seemed to perhaps untie the offensive knot Milwaukee found themselves in.

The lack of interior scoring options in that lineup forced an outside game shift, and somehow, someway, the Bucks found themselves down only one, 70-71, in a game where they fell as far behind as 15 points thanks largely to defensive pressure and hot shooting to close the quarter.

Success didn’t translate perfectly to the fourth, though head coach Jason Kidd did decide to keep the same lineup in to start. John Henson began to put together his first solid performance in a long while thanks in part to the beneficial matchups against lanky Suns centers. He subbed out with 4:14 in the fourth, and ended with eight points, six rebounds, and four blocks including this one:

A timely Rashad Vaughn three and a follow-up by Middleton from distance with 5:45 left brought the Bucks within one, 85-86. The defense started to tighten up late, and some crucial stops and turnovers led to great offense, especially for an in-rhythm Khris Middleton who seemed on a mission to carry the Bucks across the finish line (reminiscent of Milwaukee’s stop in Phoenix last season).

Basket trading late set this game up for an exciting finish with the teams tied at 95 with :33.8 on the clock, possession Milwaukee. Greg Monroe came hard charging and spinning against Tyson Chandler, and a beautiful set of moves got him a basket and the Bucks a 97-95 lead. One final stop was all Milwaukee needed to lock up an unexpected win.

And a stop they did get. MCW shut down Bledsoe once more to force a turnover on an interior drive, setting up Khris Middleton for free throws to ice the game. Somehow, the Bucks came back to win it 101-95, and Phoenix will go away bothered they couldn’t capitalize down the stretch.

95. 66. 101. 89. Final

It wasn’t a fun trip out west, certainly, but the Bucks now have a little momentum going as they return home to face the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.