Milwaukee Bucks continue to show resiliency in clutch situations

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - MARCH 04: (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - MARCH 04: (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks certainly went into the All-Star break with a bang Thursday night.

After battling back and forth down the stretch, the Bucks prevailed with a 112-111 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, all thanks to Jrue Holiday‘s sublime step-back 16-foot jumper near the baseline with 2 seconds left to go.

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Not only did Holiday sinking such a big shot serve as his signature moment so far over his Bucks stint and especially after having recently returned following his bout with COVID-19, it’s indicative of the Bucks’ ability to thrive under the highest of pressures late in games. After all, Milwaukee’s last three victories have all been decided close to the final buzzer.

The trend started last Thursday night in the Bucks’ 129-125 win over the New Orleans Pelicans where the Bucks held on to a slim victory by the skin of their teeth. Their high-profile matchup with the L.A. Clippers was memorably capped off by a thunderous dunk by Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk with 10.3 seconds to go after having sank a pair of clutch free throws as well.

The same play that Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer drew up for Antetokounmpo’s dunk was the same design that led to the essential triple that Pat Connaughton sank against Memphis. That made it a 108-107 game with 39.1 seconds to go in the fourth quarter of last night’s game.

The Milwaukee Bucks are getting more acclimated to crunch-time situations.

While the Bucks had more work to do to seal the game over the Grizzlies as evidenced by Khris Middleton getting to the free throw line and Holiday hitting his big-time shot, they keep flexing their muscles in high-leverage situations. Of course, blowing what was as big as an 18-point lead led the Bucks veering towards disaster throughout the second half until their final minute of brilliance.

With the win, the Bucks are now 5-8 over 46 clutch time minutes so far this season, per Despite that middling record, Milwaukee has the seventh-highest net rating (+14.5 points per 100 possessions) and the sixth-best defensive rating at 96.2 points per 100 possessions in such situations.

That latter fact is symbolic of the more experimental and varied defensive coverages we’ve seen from Budenholzer and the Bucks that has helped them get timely stops to put them in position to steal games late. The same goes for playing small and finding the right mix of lineups that puts the Bucks in the best position to switch when opposing teams put the ball in the hands of their best players.

Milwaukee has followed that train of thought as well with Middleton standing as the Bucks’ engine in crunch-time situations all season long. Antetokounmpo, though, has recently been utilized in different ways and hasgrown more comfortable as a screener for Middleton as well as getting the ball near the elbow or in the post to operate

Finding Antetokounmpo on mismatches like in the following play with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley has given the Bucks a true vertical threat to play with that opposing teams will certainly key in on as the season rolls on after the All-Star break.

There’s no question that the Bucks are on quite the run when it comes to being able to snatch these tight games late as they have over the last week. But their growing success is representative of the different approach they’ve taken this regular season and becoming more adaptable to all sorts of situations, especially come playoff time.

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The trick-or-treat nature of clutch scenarios won’t always leave the Bucks feeling triumphant as they have at the end in each of their last three wins. But the overall experience they’re gaining from these kind of situations has given the Bucks a different dimension than we’ve been used to seeing over the Mike Budenholzer era.