The Utah Jazz fought valiantly and almost pulled away with the win, but, ultimately, Giannis Antetokounmpo willed the Milwaukee Bucks to a 122-118 win over the Jazz. Utah would have been completely forgiven if they were blown out by the Eastern Conference leading Milwaukee Bucks. The Jazz were without their defending Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and his very capable backup Ed Davis. They were on the road. They still battled.
The Utah Jazz went into halftime with a 57-48 lead. Then the Bucks turned it on. The Bucks scored 42 points in the 3rd quarter and bulldozed over the Utah Jazz’s makeshift bigs. Georges Niang and Jeff Green, who had been filling in down low while Utah is shorthanded with size, were targeted by Giannis in the second half. Once Tony Bradley was able to check in, it was too late. Giannis was rolling and there was no looking back. Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic had solid games, but Mike Conley struggled from the field once again.
Reaction #1: OH MY GREEK GOD GIANNIS
Give it up to the reigning MVP. The man is a nightmare to guard. Even if the Utah Jazz had Rudy Gobert—which I think would have helped TREMENDOUSLY—Giannis just has the ability to run people over. Whoever the Jazz threw at him—Donovan, Bojan, Royce, Bradley, Green, Niang, Ingles—they may as well have been pawns in a chess game. Giannis was getting where he wanted to go. He scored 50 points on 31 shots.
Because Giannis was just a physical matchup nightmare, Utah had no choice but to put him on the line. Giannis shot 68% from the field, but had 19(!!!) free throw attempts. To put that into perspective, the Jazz have not had a player have 19 or more free throw attempts in 12 years (Deron Williams, coincidentally, had 20 FTAs vs the Bucks in 2008). And before that it wasn’t since 2003 with Karl Malone. Even crazier the Jazz have had three games this season where they didn’t have more than 19 free throws.
Giannis is a nightmare. This was the expected result without his Stifle Tower nemesis.
Reaction #2: The Utah Jazz offense might have a steady pulse
It may have taken the urgency of no Rudy Gobert, but the Utah Jazz offense finally has urgency and is playing with a pulse. The Utah Jazz ended the game with an offensive rating of 116.5 (they have a 107.5 on the season according to Cleaning The Glass). That would have been phenomenal had they had their patented defense ready for tonight, but throwing down 118 points on the league’s third best defense is nothing to sneeze at.
The Utah Jazz’s bench, in particular, was phenomenal. The Jazz’s bench contributed 51 points tonight. This is not the kind of game anyone anticipated. Joe Ingles was 5-10 and 3-7 from the three. Georges Niang was 5-11 and and 3-6 from three. Jeff Green was 4-6 and 3-5 from three. Emmanuel Mudiay was 5-6 and 1-1 from three. This was an amazing performance by the bench.
Adding to the explosion was Mitchell and Bogdanovic’s normal contributions of 20 and 24, respectively, and despite the fireworks, the Jazz still could have improved. Mike Conley struggled from the field while going 2-10, but he dished out 9 assists.
Overreaction #1: The Jazz bench is here!
In the past two games the Jazz’s bench has not been an absolute trainwreck. The urgency of a Gobert-less Jazz team seems to have spurred the Jazz bench to better play. While one of those games was against the New Orleans Pelicans, it has been better. Putting up 51 points on the league’s best defense is nothing to sneeze at for Utah’s reserve unit. The goal is that this Wasatch Foothills bench can continue this once Rudy Gobert returns to the lineup so that they can continue to provide the starters with good rest especially on this long road trip.
Overreaction #2: Tony Bradley is a solid backup center
We will all remember when Roy Hibbert was reincarnated into 21 year old Tony Bradley’s body. Tony Bradley while facing a frontline that featured two Lopez brothers and Giannis finished the game with 8 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocks in 24 minutes. While he did pick up 5 fouls (thanks, Giannis), it could be said that the biggest mistake Utah made in the fourth quarter was deciding to go with Jeff Green for the final 4 minutes of the game instead of Tony Bradley. Yes, Bradley had 5 fouls, but might as well capitalize on his size as much as you can.
Four of Milwaukee’s 15 offensive rebounds in the game came in the last 4 minutes without Tony Bradley on the floor. To put that in perspective, the Jazz only had four offensive rebounds total for the game. One less offensive rebounding could have been the difference for Utah tonight. Utah has lost a few games that they shouldn’t have lost (Kings, Grizzlies, Timberwolves), and a win in Milwaukee could have been a way to improbably put a lost victory back into the win column.
Under-reaction #1: The Milwaukee Bucks should have NEVER chosen Eric Bledsoe over Malcolm Brogdon
While the Jazz ultimately lost this game due to offensive and defensive rebounding (ahem, missing Rudy Gobert), the Bucks—had they lost tonight—would have been looking squarely at Eric Bledsoe. With about two minutes left and a 5 point lead, Eric Bledsoe took an ill-advised three pointer that he missed badly WAY early in the shot clock. If you’re thinking, well, that’s a one mistake play. He had just done the same thing on the play prior by going hard to the basketball and not holding the ball to eat away time. Only the layup attempt was salvaged by an offensive rebound by Giannis.
That series of events allowed Utah to pull within two. Bledsoe then missed another 2-pointer with 24 seconds left. Utah had the ball only down two after that. Unfortunately, Utah didn’t call timeout, Bojan and Donovan didn’t communicate well on the last play and Donovan would end up being blocked on the final layup attempt.
But none of that would have been possible without Bledsoe going hero mode in a situation that required for the basketball equivalent of taking a knee. In a game where the best basketball player in the world was putting on a show, he tried to play alpha when Alpha and Omega was balling out.
Before free agency even arrived the Bucks decided to offer Bledsoe a contract extension. That decision meant that the Bucks would have to choose between Khris Middleton and past rookie of the year and overachieving point guard backup Malcolm Brogdon, whom the Jazz will face on Wednesday when they take on the Indiana Pacers. The Bucks would choose Middleton. The decision seemed great when the Bucks made the extension, then Bledsoe started to fade toward the end of the season and into the playoffs where most would want Brogdon on the floor instead of Bledsoe.
That decision feels more pivotal as the Bucks are without Middleton because of injury and Bledsoe continues to be Bledsoe. For the season Bledsoe is averaging 17.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. He’s shooting 47% from the field, 31% from three, and 78% from the line. Brogdon? Well, the Indiana Pacers “overpaid” for him—or that’s what a few people around the league said during the summer—and he’s averaging 19.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists while shooting 46% from the field, 31% from three, and a league leading 98% from the line. He’s also doing it as Indiana’s alpha without other playmakers to help him and has led Indiana to a surprising 9-6 start without Victor Oladipo.
Brogdon is 27 and making $20M/yr while Bledsoe is 29 making on average $17.5M/yr. One makes steady decisions, the other misreads their role and the situation. If I were the Bucks, I’d miss every day I was without Malcolm Brogdon.