In what has become a trend for the greater good, the Bucks put forth yet another strong offensive performance Friday night, defeating the Timberwolves by a final score of 116-101.
The Wolves controlled much of the first half, taking a 49-39 lead into the second quarter before things began to crumble. The Bucks took advantage of a slew of Minnesota turnovers, piecing together a 23-7 run to end the first half. The Wolves finished the game with 26 turnovers, something guard Tyus Jones says the team must work on fixing.
“We just made some careless passes where we just have to have a little better judgment,” Jones said. “They were being physical which led us to try to get the ball out of our hands a little too quick. We just have to be better with the ball, be smarter and value each possession.”
The Bucks were still hot when the third quarter began, continuing their rampant finish to the first half. Combined with their end to the second quarter, Milwaukee built up a 49-13 run. Khris Middleton then connected for his eighth 3-pointer of the night with 4:55 left in the third, putting the Bucks up 88-62.
Despite a big lead heading into the fourth, the Bucks allowed the Wolves’ bench to climb back into things. A Damjan Rudez 3-pointer at the five-minute mark cut the Bucks lead to just seven at 102-95, forcing Milwaukee to insert their starters back into the game.
Jason Kidd hinted at a lack of aggressiveness as a reason Minnesota made it close.
“With that group that was out there at the end of the third and going to the fourth, we stopped playing,” Kidd said. “That group has to stay sharp. We have to stay sharp as a team.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo also noted that stretch, saying the Bucks need to be able to close out games better.
“I think it’s something that we do wrong sometimes,” Antetokounmpo said. “Sometimes when we get up and we have a big lead, we relax. We don’t keep playing. We’ve got to keep playing hard.”
An Antetokounmpo jumper put the Bucks up by nine with 4:28 remaining and a 3-pointer by O.J. Mayo on the next Bucks possession put Milwaukee back up by double digits. It was a lead the Bucks would not relinquish, as Minnesota would not cut the lead to single digits the rest of the game.
Leading the way for Milwaukee was Khris Middleton, who strung together a 32-point performance, including going 8-for-9 from the three-point line. His performance marked the most 3-pointers in a game by a Bucks player since Carlos Delfino on March 3, 2011.
“I thought Khris [Middleton], normally a player who comes off and maybe shooting one at the buzzer to miss,” Kidd said. “I thought [Khris] was a little more focused tonight in that sense. He got wide-open looks. His teammates found him and he knocked them down.”
Not only Khris Middleton was hot from the 3-point line. As a team, the Bucks hit 14 threes, a new season high. Jason Kidd attributed the success to two simple reasons.
“I think one, [we were] sharing the ball, two, [we were] making them,” Kidd said.
Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo came one rebound away from yet another triple-double. Despite being unable to reel in a rebound in the closing seconds, he was not too frustrated.
“It doesn’t matter, we got the win,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s what we play for. We play to win, and we’ve just got to get out of this and move forward.”
Perhaps the most intriguing stat from Antetokounmpo’s line was his 12 assists. It was a career high in that category and his teammates took note, especially considering his recent playing time at the point guard position.
“We’re playing really well with Giannis at the point,” Khris Middleton said. “He’s finding guys, moving the ball and causing so much attention, so many problems. It’s good for us.”
Bucks fans were thrilled to see multiple connections between Antetokounmpo and Parker throughout the night, something that has become more of a ritual in the recent stretch of games. Antetokounmpo believes the two are becoming more and more familiar with each other on the floor.
“We’re getting more comfortable,” Antetokounmpo said. “Jabari’s my guy. He’s doing a great job finding me, and I’m doing a great job finding him. I think that connection is coming and that we can take the Bucks to the next level.”
The Bucks finish off their home stretch with a Sunday matinee against the Oklahoma City Thunder before traveling to Chicago to take on the Bulls. They then return for two games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center against Miami on March 3 and the Pelicans on March 12.