They say a win is a win. That’s exactly what the Bucks are echoing following their thrilling 90-88 victory over the Portland Trailblazers last night. The four quarters may not have been pretty enough to be placed in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa, but Milwaukee did just enough to scrape off a well-needed victory as they head into the gauntlet part of their grueling December schedule. Let’s take a glance at some of the key things we gained from last night.
O.J. Mayo is proving just how important he is to the offense. It was the second game of the O.J. Mayo point guard trial last night, and success was once again achieved. The offense flowed nicely with Juice at the helm, which makes one wonder if this is the lineup that benefits the Bucks the most. Mayo continued to make a name for himself in clutch time as well, as he was the guy the Bucks offense drew up a play for with sixteen seconds remaining in the game. With the Bucks down 88-84, Kidd drew up a play in which O.J. Mayo peeled off an off the ball screen set by Greg Monroe, freeing him up for a three-pointer to extend the game. That’s just what he did, and the Bucks then trailed by only one point and were put in an extraordinary position to fulfill the comeback. Earlier in the quarter as well, Mayo hit a transition three that trimmed the Blazers lead. Time in and time out, O.J. has proven his ability to be trusted on in the clutch. Think back to last year’s Laker’s game. Remember his game-tying three? How about his big shot as the shot clock was running down against the Bulls in Game 4 of last year’s playoffs? It’s not only his clutch shots that aid the offense. When O.J. is the starting point guard, teams are forced to respect his three-point ability and adjust their defensive tendencies accordingly. That opens up many more opportunities for other players, such as Jabari and Giannis, eliminating the key problem of a lack of spacing when the one-dimensional style of shooting from MCW is on the floor. Mayo expands the capabilities of the offense just by being a presence on the floor. So far, Kidd’s experiment of Juice playing at the one spot is definitely paying off.
The Bucks executed the final minute of the game perfectly. As we just talked about, the Bucks drew up a masterful play that freed up Mayo to cut the Blazers lead. However, it was the ensuing gameplay that really showed the Bucks composure in such a meaningful time. Up one, the Blazers in bounded the ball on the near sideline, expecting a foul. However, the Bucks were ready for the pass and sealed off any where for C.J. McCollum to go by sandwiching him with the wingspans of Carter-Williams and Antetokounmpo. Desperately looking for help, there was not much McCollum could accomplish in such a small window, allowing Carter-Williams to elude the foul to extend the game. Instead, he was able to get his palms on the basketball, creating a jump ball. It was shades of the game last season against the Heat in which a jump call paved the way for Middleton’s heroic game winner, only this time the Bucks were only down one and a two would win the game. Carter-Williams then won the jump ball at center court, and ran a simple yet perfectly executed pick and roll dump off pass that allowed Greg Monroe position down low in the post and lay up the go-ahead basket.
John Henson’s defense is one of the most important assets on this team. After Monroe’s go-ahead shot went in, it was not over. A little over five seconds remained on the clock, which was more than enough time for the Blazers to devise a play. However, the play they composed did not go accordingly. Meyers Leonard received the in bounds pass, lumbered down the lane and floated up a shot and was greeted by the outstretched fingertips of John Henson. Henson was originally guarding Ed Davis on the far post when the play began to develop, but his court awareness and vision allowed him to step over and block Leonard’s shot. Watching the replay, it’s almost as if Leonard underestimated Henson’s length, or at least thought he could float the ball over his outstretched arm. Nonetheless, kudos to Jason Kidd for substituting out Greg Monroe out for John Henson in the closing seconds. J-Hook may not be the most extravagant on offense, but his defense is what helps mold the reinforcement down low for the Bucks and it showed last night.
Continuity on the scoring is vital for the offense. For the second straight game, all Bucks starters registered double-digit figures. Well-rounded scoring is always important for any NBA team, but for the Bucks it goes above and beyond. The duo of Giannis and Jabari haven’t budded into superstars just yet, but they are viewed as two of the main scoring guys on the Bucks’ offense. On a night where everyone is cold and nothing seems to be going in, it sometimes puts the pressure on a sole player to muster some scoring and provide a spark. However, when everybody is firing on all cylinders, the defense finds itself in a hole and unsure who to put any special defensive strategies on. Consistent scoring and sharing the basketball go hand in hand for the Bucks and looking at how it has gone so far this year, they both correlate with winning. Perhaps it’s the lineup change of inserting O.J. Mayo into the starting lineup and having two guys that can shoot the deep ball right out of the gates. Having the three-point threats of Middleton and Mayo opens up the floor more, creating more chances for Parker, Antetokounmpo and Monroe to take advantage of their defensive matchup and score from within the perimeter. Hopefully these last two games were not a fluke of any sorts but rather a foreshadowing of good things to come.
It’s extremely fun watching the Bucks play at this level. These last handful of games have shown that it truly is a learning process for the players and that there’s no real reason to worry about tanking or if Ben Simmons could be available at the Bucks’ spot in the draft. This team is not that bad. Instead, look at it as a slow start out of the gates. The team still has some things to mold and sculpt out, but fans have to be satisfied with the improvement they are showing out on the court. The Bucks will get a chance to test their revitalized defense against some of the toughest teams in the NBA coming up, as tomorrow the Los Angeles Clippers come to town, followed by a road trip to Toronto and then back to Milwaukee for a matchup against the undefeated Golden State Warriors. The young Bucks are still green and they’re still growing. We just have to patiently wait for the finished product.