The Milwaukee Bucks took down the Brooklyn Nets, 127-104, to open the 2021-22 NBA season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 32 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists, while Khris Middleton contributed 20 points and nine rebounds, as well. Despite these two individuals, it was Pat Connaughton who came out hot, leading the bench in scoring with 20 points, including four 3-pointers.
Connaughton had plenty of memorable plays during the Bucks 2020-21 NBA playoff run, including momentum-shifting triples against Phoenix in the Finals. To open the season, he showed that the end of last year was no fluke. There’s a lot to break down after a decisive win against Brooklyn, but let’s take a second to recognize the game that Connaughton put together.
Pat Connaughton was a highlight off the bench for the Milwaukee Bucks.
What it means:
Entering the game, the Bucks had to deal with a war of attrition. Bobby Portis, Semi Ojeleye, Donte DiVincenzo, and Rodney Hood were all out due to injury, forcing coach Mike Budenholzer to give minutes to players like Sandro Mamukelashvili and Justin Robinson.
In a normal rotation, there would be much more contribution expected from the Bucks bench. That didn’t seem to matter for Connaughton. The last time he scored 20 points came on March 22, 2021, against Indiana in a 140-113 win. Having a performance like this so early in the year is encouraging. The Bucks will be able to boost their depth once injuries heal, but Connaughton holding down the bench for now is an expectation. He aced his first test.
Not only did he shoot an efficient 4-for-9 from 3-point range, but Connaughton was able to shoot 8-of-13 from the field throughout the contest. Everyone knows what a threat he is from beyond the arc, but having a few impressive finishes at the rim only helps the case for a high-quality role player.
Key Plays from Connaughton:
The three plays to highlight are one of each. Connaughton had multiple threes, but for this breakdown, he showed plenty of versatility by having highlight-play material on two drives to the basket through contact and a nice cut through the defense for a slam.
Let’s look at the first drive to the basket. There was so much to take away from this play. To start, Connaughton receives a handoff from Jordan Nwora. Brook Lopez is able to come over to screen his defender, but Connaughton noticed a chance to slip through and did so effectively. He collected his dribble and adjusted mid-drive while being guarded by Joe Harris, which gave him the chance to kiss the right-handed scoop shot off the glass.
Next, Connaughton does exactly what any high-I.Q. basketball player would do in this situation. Giannis picked up his dribble after being hounded by Jevon Carter. Noticing Connaughton on the cut, Giannis found him in perfect stride that allowed him to elevate easily for the two-handed flush.
Last but not least, it’s the isolation drive on the same side of the floor as before. Connaughton ran a pick-and-pop with Grayson Allen and got a pass thrown to him on the right-wing. He squared up, ripped through past Patty Mills, and finished through hard contact from James Johnson.
20 points for Pat Connaughton might not be a common occurrence, but it’s important to realize how impactful that output can be in high-intensity games. Taking down Brooklyn was a big step, but an even bigger step is seeing Connaughton put up a stat line as noteworthy as this one.