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Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Bucks Rout Knicks 146-122 to Advance to NBA Cup Semifinals

Milwaukee defeated New York 110-105 in the first NBA Cup game, but the rematch was no contest: the Bucks dominated the visiting Knicks 146-122 to advance to an NBA Cup Semifinals matchup with the Indiana Pacers, who defeated the Boston Celtics 122-112 last night

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a team-high 35 points in just 34 minutes, shooting 15-22 from the field while also grabbing a game-high eight rebounds and dishing for a game-high 10 assists. Damian Lillard added 28 points on 8-13 field goal shooting, and he also had seven assists. The Bucks had four other double figure scorers: Malik Beasley (18 points), Khris Middleton (14 points), Bobby Portis (13 points), and Cameron Payne (12 points). The Bucks shot 55-91 (.604) from the field, including 23-38 (.605) from three point range.

Julius Randle flirted with a perfect shooting game before finishing with 41 points on 14-19 field goal shooting and 11-12 free throw shooting. Jalen Brunson added 24 points and a team-high six assists, while R.J. Barrett contributed 23 points while tying Antetokounmpo for game-high honors with eight rebounds. The Knicks not only did a horrible job defending the three point line but they made just seven of their 23 long range attempts (.304).

Milwaukee led 37-35 after a defense-optional first quarter that foreshadowed how the rest of the game would go for the Bucks offensively. Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 13 points on 6-8 field goal shooting as the Bucks shot 15-25 (.600) from the field. Randle (12 points on 6-6 field goal shooting) and Barrett (10 points on 3-7 field goal shooting) paced the Knicks. 

Milwaukee led 75-72 at halftime as the Bucks shot 28-43 (.651) from the field. Lillard had 19 points on 5-7 field goal shooting (including 4-4 from three point range), and Antetokounmpo scored 16 points on 7-9 field goal shooting. Randle led both teams with 25 points on 9-9 field goal shooting and 6-6 free throw shooting. Brunson added 15 points but shot just 6-15 from the field in a reversal of roles with Randle, who has been a high volume, inefficient scorer thus far this season. 

The Bucks took control in the third quarter, outscoring the Knicks 37-24 while shooting 13-22 (.591) from the field and holding the Knicks to 8-22 (.364) field goal shooting. At the start of the fourth quarter, TNT showed an incredible statistic: this game marked the first time that a Knicks opponent had scored at least 37 points in each of the first three quarters since Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game on March 2, 1962. Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors won that game, 169-147. The Bucks could have scored 37 points in the fourth quarter as well, but took their foot off of the gas in the waning moments and settled for a 34-26 advantage in the final stanza. Knicks Coach Tom Thibodeau prides himself on defense, so he must be aghast by his team's horrific performance at that end of the court. 

As for the Bucks, this game provided a glimpse of what the Antetokounmpo-Lillard duo can look like when they are both playing at a high level offensively, but the concerning thing for the Bucks is that--unlike their 2021 championship team that ranked fifth in defensive field goal percentage and second in rebounding--this team is very dependent on outscoring opponents because they rank just 16th in defensive field goal percentage and 20th in rebounding; that is not a championship-winning formula, so the primary challenge for the Bucks is figuring out how to improve defensively and on the boards. The theory behind shipping out Jrue Holiday in exchange for Lillard is that Lillard can provide scoring and playmaking punch down the stretch of close playoff games, but if the Bucks don't get better defensively then their playoff games versus elite opponents may not be close down the stretch.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:31 PM



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