Two games, two comeback attempts that came up just short for the Milwaukee Bucks.
In their previous outing against the Houston Rockets, the Bucks looked abysmal in the first half as they could not hold a candle to their opponent. They kicked it into another gear in the second half, but their comeback did not happen. That's pretty much exactly what happened against the Jazz, too. After trailing by as many as 33, Milwaukee roared back to make it single digits.
Despite their best efforts, the Bucks could not overcome their own self-inflicted issues, the absence of Damian Lillard, who was out due to personal reasons, and a hot shooting night from Utah, falling to the Jazz 132-116. Perhaps the most interesting note from this game was a new mid-game strategy used by Coach Adrian Griffin that helped fuel Milwaukee's comeback attempt.
Bucks deploy interesting mid-game strategy as comeback against Jazz falls short
Trailing by 18 points with 5:14 left to play in the third quarter, eyebrows were raised when 20-year-old forward Chris Livingston checked into the game for the first time. Given that Livingston hasn't been a part of Milwaukee's rotation in any legitimate capacity this season, it felt like Griffin was trying to do anything he could to give this team a spark. It worked.
The rookie gave the Milwaukee Bucks an immediate boost. He scored on a layup off a nice dish from Giannis Antetokounmpo. Less than a minute later, he got his shot blocked by Jordan Clarkson but got the rebound and scored on it. About a minute later, he was fouled and stepped to the line, knocking in both free throws to give him six quick points.
Due to the spark he gave Milwaukee in the third, Livingston saw extended time in the fourth, logging nearly nine-and-a-half minutes. He wasn't as impactful in the final frame, as he made a couple rookie mistakes by missing both of his shots, turning the ball over once, and logging a foul. Still, he gave the team some nice defense and energy, which was much-needed.
Overall, it was nice to see Livingston get some action. When the Bucks needed someone (anyone outside of Giannis) to show some life, Livingston answered the call, making tough buckets, getting out in transition, and playing tough defense. As a young rookie, mistakes are bound to happen, but it was nice to see Griffin keep the rookie in the game.
It might not be a bad idea to feature the rookie a bit more moving forward, especially on nights like this when the veterans are not providing much of a spark.
Two other young Bucks - Andre Jackson Jr. and AJ Green - also gave the team energy. Jackson, who started in place of Lillard, only made two of his six shots, but he made an impact elsewhere by tallying five rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Green scored eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, with two of the shots coming from 3-point range. Again, might not be a bad idea to feature these guys a bit.
Looking at the top guys, Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn't as dominant as he normally is - a large part of that can be due to Lillard's absence and Utah sending multiple bodies at him - but he still finished with a triple-double, clocking in 25 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Giannis has quite literally put the team on his back lately, and he desperately needs his teammates to help him out.
Khris Middleton tried his best to do so, having a quality all-around game with 23 points, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot. The same goes for Malik Beasley, who had 17 points as he made five triples, while he also had a steal and a block apiece. Brook Lopez had 13 points, and it was nice to see him hit three 3-pointers, as he's been in a slump for most of the year.
Yet, the Bucks could not overcome yet another lopsided bench game. Utah's bench was flourishing, led by 21 points from Jordan Clarkson. Milwaukee's top two bench players, Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis, combined to score just 14 points. These two once-trusted veterans have struggled to live up to their stature this season, and it's hurting this team mightily.
Milwaukee's bench had 31 points, while Utah's had 63. This just cannot keep happening.
On the other side of things, the Jazz were hot from three, having lit Milwaukee up in the first half by knocking down 16 triples. They only made four more in the second half, but they still finished the game shooting 45.5 percent from deep. Part of that was due to tough shot-making, but another was due to some sluggish closing out by the Bucks. They have to clean it up.
The Bucks find themselves in a big slump, and they've got a big test ahead with the Boston Celtics coming to town in their next game. That's a game that could help get the wheels turning, so it would be huge to get a win. Fans are already vocal about wanting changes, but it could get ugly if the Bucks start slow and get knocked down further by a prominent foe.
Stay tuned for more Milwaukee Bucks analysis.