Coming off a horrendous showing against the Toronto Raptors, the Milwaukee Bucks needed to bounce back against the visiting New York Knicks.
This game would be a bit more hyped-up than normal, as not only would Milwaukee be viewed by millions on national television, but this was their opening game of the NBA’s brand-new in-season tournament. While no one was outright panicking about the Bucks’ slow start, there were several valid concerns, raising the stakes in this game even further.
Thankfully, the Bucks got a win, and here’s how.
Damain Lillard closes, adjustments are made, and more
Following his record-breaking debut with the Bucks, Damian Lillard has been looking to find his stride game by game. He’s struggled to this point, and that trend continued for much of this one. However, once the fourth quarter clock started, one of the league’s most clutch players kicked it into another gear and got going.
Entering the fourth with 15 points, Lillard doubled that over the final 12 minutes. The guard hit a trio of shots, all of which were beyond clutch. His lone triple of the period was his biggest shot of the night. With the Bucks trailing by two, Lillard knocked down a huge triple to help the Bucks get back the lead. Moments later, he had a tough and-one right at the hoop.
Lillard’s aggressiveness with the ball in his hands helped him secure eight free throw attempts in the final period, having sunk them all. His ability to get to the line has been huge.
In total, Lillard finished with 30 points, four boards, and four assists. It’s the type of performance that should help him as he tries to find a sustainable groove.
Speaking of grooves, Coach Adrian Griffin is still looking for his. He has caught plenty of criticism for his coaching decisions early. Getting adjusted to being a head coach can be stressful, but the newcomer got some help from his players. He told reporters postgame that players came to him and asked for Lopez to get deeper into the drop on defense.
The Bucks oftentimes ran a drop defense under Head Coach Mike Budenholzer, and it’s one of the reasons why Lopez has been one of the most formidable rim protectors NBA-wide in recent years. On top of that, it’s why he was second in last season’s Defensive Player of the Year race. Putting him in the drop is the best way for him to be his best self on defense.
As he tested things out early in the season, Griffin’s rotations sometimes did not feature Lopez, and when they did, the defense the team ran did not fit the center’s strengths. This was apparent in the recent loss to Toronto, where Lopez played less than 17 minutes. Something needed to be done to utilize the All-Defensive center more appropriately for Milwaukee.
Griffin listened to his players, and the results were great. Lopez was a monster defensively from start to finish, having finished with eight blocked shots. Four of his blocks came during the fourth quarter alone, as the big man made his presence felt. He looked comfortable, and a big reason for it was the change by Griffin.
Griffin’s openness to ideas and adjusting to what the players call for could be very useful as he continues getting his feet wet in the world of being an NBA head coach.
Elsewhere, the Bucks got a huge boost off of the bench from Jae Crowder and MarJon Beauchamp.
Crowder, who has been a sparkplug all season, continues to look comfortable offensively, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-6 from downtown. Not only did he provide scoring in his minutes, but he also added six rebounds, two assists, and a steal. The forward can be a huge piece for this team if he continues playing this well game by game.
The last statement is true for Beauchamp, who tallied 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, having sunk three of his five 3-point attempts. That came in just 13 minutes of game action. Though he isn’t a major player just yet, Beauchamp showed that he can make a big impact when given the chance. This is the type of game that could very well earn him more minutes.
Another positive sign from this game was Khris Middleton, who played a season-high 21 minutes as he slowly works his way back from off-season surgery. He looked great in those minutes as he finished with a stuffed line of 12 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. His scoring primarily was on point, as the forward hit an array of tough shots. It’s great to see him get going.
When the final buzzer rang, the Bucks had avoided a late collapse with a 110-105 victory over the New York Knicks to move to 3-2 on the season.
Stay tuned for more Milwaukee Bucks analysis.