All of the matchups between the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers thus far this season have set the stage for a new NBA rivalry to be born.
After the chaos that took place in their previous outing, everyone was curious to see how the teams would play in their first matchup of 2024. Well, as many could have guessed, these two teams were chippy in this one from start to finish, with a handful of technical fouls being handed out and players having to be separated. Safe to say they were not talking about how their holidays went.
Though it certainly wasn't as dramatic as Giannis Antetokounmpo's 64-point game the last time the two teams played, this one was quite hectic, and not in a good way. The Bucks blew multiple leads of double digits and ultimately collapsed in the clutch. The Pacers managed to secure the win this time against Indiana, walking out of Fiserv Forum with a 122-113 victory.
Bucks' chippy loss to Pacers shows that they still have question marks about bench
It wasn't the lone factor, but the lopsided efforts from each of these benches was a significant issue for the Bucks in this one. Milwaukee's bench scored just 16 points, while Indiana's tallied 70. It's going to be hard to win a game when the bench contributions are that different.
Bennedict Mathurin (25 points) and Isaiah Jackson (18 points) individually outscored Milwaukee's bench by themselves, while T.J. McConnell (16 points) tied them. Obi Tobbin (11 points), Indiana's fourth-leading bench scorer, comfortably scored more than any Milwaukee reserve.
The +/- in the box score is very telling. Every starter on Milwaukee's end had a positive rating, while all of the bench players had a negative rating. Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton were both in the -20s. It was the complete opposite on the other end, as all of Indiana's starters were in the negative, while all of the reserves were positive. (Toppin and McConnell were in the +30s!)
Milwaukee's reserves just could not do anything in this game. Portis had just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting. Connaughton had three points on three shot attempts. Cam Payne had five points on just 25 percent shooting. Andre Jackson Jr. played less than five minutes. They were just struggling to do much of anything for essentially the entire game.
These bench issues have been a problem for much of the season. Unless Portis is cooking, the bench oftentimes has trouble staying afloat. It hurts that Jae Crowder, one of the team's biggest sparkplugs off of the bench to start the season, has been injured. However, that is not an excuse. Other players, particularly the veterans, have to step up. It starts with Portis and Connaughton.
If they cannot, it won't be surprising to hear their names surface in rumors sooner rather than later as the team searches for someone who will.
Again, the bench is not solely to blame for this loss. Damian Lillard had one of his worst games since he joined the Bucks, scoring just 13 points on 3-of-16 shooting. For whatever reason, he simply just could not get anything going. Lillard had been in a great groove lately, but he certainly started 2024 off on the wrong foot. Hopefully it's just a bump in the road.
Lillard's struggles and the minimal contributions from the second unit simply spelled doom for the Bucks. Even a 30-point, 18 rebound, 11 assist triple-double from Giannis, a 21-point game from Khris Middleton and a 21-point night from Brook Lopez could not save Milwaukee.
Though the Bucks have been good in the clutch this season, they were anything but against Indiana, primarily defensively. T.J. McConnell, a famed "Buck killer," was in full-force, shooting 4-of-5 en route to 12 points in the final frame alone. Tyrese Haliburton scored nine fourth quarter points, including several buckets very late, to put the Bucks away.
Ultimately, this is not a loss that calls for the panic button. A cold night from Lillard or another star is bound to happen every now and then. The bigger concern is the bench, and whether or not this unit can be trusted nightly. It'll be fascinating to see what the Bucks do ahead of the deadline, as it's on the table that they seek help for the bench brigade.
The Bucks will have another crack at the Pacers in their very next outing, and they are bound to be motivated to get back into the win column.
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