11.18.2017 – Milwaukee Bucks at Dallas Mavericks

1st Quarter

  • Klebur gets his second start, this time drawing Giannis as his defensive assignment after having to guard Towns the previous night against Minnesota (in a game I wasn’t able to watch live, and thankfully the final score was enough to let me know I needn’t revisit it). My initial preseason hopes for Klebur were that if he could avoid being terrible on defense, he might have an impact as a versatile offensive player. Alas, I was seduced by the Summer League siren’s song; he isn’t seeing many looks, and isn’t really hitting the ones he does see. The good news is I was totally wrong, and for how small of an impact he has on offense, he has really shown up defensively. Carlisle has been using him in the frontcourt as a small-ball four, and his athleticism allows for some new defensive looks, like overloading the strong side or harder hedges on ball screens. Plus, his combination of size and speed is unique (on this roster) enough that he is probably the best matchup for these new oversized wings like Giannis or Ben Simmons.
  • Starting only his fifth game in Milwaukee, it is a nice treat to see Eric Bledsoe getting real minutes on a real team, after getting perma-benched in Phoenix basically for being too good to play on a tanking team. It is definitely not a treat for Dennis Smith Jr., who has the misfortune of going up against an elite defender who is ready to release all of his pent-up basketball aggression on whomever is in his way.
  • Giannis pays homage to Dirk by making his first basket a one-legged fadeaway.
  • By far the most interesting thing about the Bucks’ brand of basketball is their defense. They have a roster full of tall, long, fast freaks (one of the greek) that make playing them feel like you’re playing Farnsworth’s Mutants. Not only that, but they use a system that doubles down on the pressure that the matchups create. They will double on the perimeter on screens, always have the strong side overloaded, and will swarm if you drive into the paint. This also means that they take risks, and coach (and NBA Champion) Jason Kidd has been taking some heat lately for using a system that is basically designed around that risk/reward gamble. I’ve always been pro-Kidd: he was the point guard on the 2011 Mavs, he did a masterful job of turning that wonky lemon of a Nets team into lemonade, and has been critical in molding Giannis into his role of point guard/center/destroyer of worlds. But this game is exhibit A in the case of why this defensive system doesn’t work. A good team (which Dallas is, not in talent but in execution) will find those holes, and the better the team the more they’ll exploit it.
  • Dallas comes out early and shows that they are prepared to absorb the pressure, and punish accordingly. All of the mavs are looking for the open shooters left alone by help defenders, and the screen setters are aware that their defenders are going to hedge hard over the screen so they’re cutting into space almost as soon as the screen is set (or sometimes before, all you need is a faux-screen action to get a big out of position).
  • I planned an “if I coached the Bucks’ defense” writeup, but that might be better served on its own, so long point short: stay in position, and stay home. If Milwaukee played with San Antonio’s ball funneling and discipline, you’d never get a good shot off.
  • In the first game of the season Powell hit a couple of threes, and I mentioned if he had really developed a reliable outside shot he would be invaluable as a two-way player. Since that first game, he has shot 5 for 26 from three and hasn’t hit more than one in a game.
  • JJ comes in and, as usual, does excellent work running the point, an asset that is important against this team. DSJ looked overwhelmed early, not only with his individual matchup against Bledsoe, but also just trying to diagnose the Bucks’ system. JJ got on the floor and things just started to happen. The game was pretty close for most of the 1st, but Dallas goes on a run near the end, largely fueled by the bench, that basically extends for the rest of the game.
  • Look how much size JJ has to deal with as he splits the double team with a slick pass down to Powell…

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 6.48.22 PM

  • With a few seconds left in the quarter, Brogdon dribbles all the way down the court and finds an open Buck underneath the basket for a free two points. Reminded me of the screen mary the Chiefs ran before halftime against the Cowboys.

2nd Quarter

By the time the second quarter gets going, Dallas is in a good rhythm, and they know exactly how to attack Milwaukee. The team actually looks like they are having fun playing with each other. I don’t say that to suggest that they don’t typically have fun, but most of the time this season they haven’t been seeing much success for all of the effort being put forth. So it was nice to see them being aggressive, looking for each other, and being rewarded for it. My notes for the quarter mostly amount to “good pass by JJ/great pass by Dirk/great team passing/etc”.

Unfortunately, for the few minutes DSJ got in the quarter, it was more of the same struggles for him. This isn’t a knock, there probably isn’t a rookie in the league (Simmons included, although now that I’m thinking about it I’m curious to see if Philly and Milwaukee have played) that is going to have the Bucks’ defense figured out. So the struggle for DSJ is part of the plan, and so is the growth. When Dallas plays in Milwaukee in a couple of weeks I’ll be very interested to see how DSJ has prepared for round 2 against the Bucks’ swarming appendages.

Later in the quarter the Mavericks’ energy seems to be spent, partly because they have a decent lead and can take their foot off the gas, but mostly because they’ve spent all their energy (funny how that works). When that happens the ball’s energy disappears as well, and suddenly the Bucks’ defense looks really good. That raises an interesting question: is this defense going to increase in efficiency in the postseason? It is an old NBA adage that the game slows down in the playoffs, when rotations tighten and more possessions just devolve into the best players trying to make plays. Milwaukee’s system could increase in value at that point, although the Raptors showed last year that even in the playoffs, once you figure it out it can be beat (and that was a team that had one of the lowest passing rates in the league).

  • Mejri played well in his spot minutes, but he did have one bad foul on Henson where he leaped up for a block and got easily caught in the air (you could even hear a player yell “stay down!”, I think Wes).
  • The Mavs pace is faster when JJ is on the floor as opposed to DSJ, which was significant tonight because getting actions started before the Bucks could set up their D was critical.
  • I would talk about Milwaukee’s offense, but it mostly just amounts to getting Giannis the ball and letting him barrel towards the rim.

3rd Quarter

  • I got a bone to pick. Dallas opens the half with a well-executed play to get Klebur an alley-oop using a Dirk back screen, with DSJ as the trigger man. Klebur has his man beat and gets through the lane to the rim untouched, but DSJ doesn’t even attempt the pass. For the amount of times that Dallas has come out and run a play like that for DSJ in order to get him going, the least he could do is try to help pass it forward (pun intended) to Klebur.
  • Maxitrillian shrugs it off and scores with a sexy-as-hell running lefty hook shot.
  • Wes goes 6-8 from three tonight, including an off the dribble step back corner three that easily goes down. When he’s aggressive, defending, and hitting from outside (I miss the Old Wes), he looks like a near-max player, and maybe the best player on the team.
  • Mejri has a great defensive sequence on Giannis, featuring a solid use of verticality.
  • Yogi is, as usual, finding any way to contribute he can. He shimmies through traffic for a clutch offensive rebound, and has a great sneaky steal while trailing Giannis.
  • While you can see that Bledsoe wants to contribute, he is having trouble finding ways to do so. He’s having a horrid shooting night (and it never gets better, finishing 2-10) and has a bad foul on JJ shooting a three. Milwaukee needs a few practices to get Bledsoe some looks other than basic pick and rolls and just having him try to beat his man.
  • Unlike Bledsoe, Khris Middleton is having a great game, shooting well and playing solid defense. Yet Milwaukee isn’t going to him, which I’m guessing is because they don’t have much in the playbook that involves going to him. That’s fine with me.
  • Barnes didn’t have much of a game, probably because his brand of basketball is exactly what the Bucks wanted us to go to. He did finish 5-11, which tells me that he still found ways to get buckets, and he didn’t force anything. He did miss a wide open corner three, which I think still triggers his 2016 Finals PTSD, and Giannis forced him into a travel by trapping him on the baseline under the basket (four turnovers for Barnes overall, ugh).
  • By the end of the third, with the game basically over, Milwaukee’s offense has devolved into just spreading out and whoever has the ball drives. It actually does a decent job of forcing help and opening up shooters, but there’s minimal capitalization. Dallas is abandoning the perimeter to stop inside pressure and Milwaukee doesn’t have the shooters to counter (shout out to Jabari).

4th Quarter

The Mavs put the game away without any real drama, which was nice, because it allowed Jason Terry to check into the game with a couple of minutes left. It had barely registered with me that he was still on the roster (he had only played about 30 minutes up to this point in the season), but he was able to get out and spend a couple of minute getting showered in applause and soaking in the final minutes he’ll (almost certainly) ever play at the American Airlines Center. I have no idea if there was a plan to get him on the court in the event of a close game, but I’m glad it happened. I don’t know if it registered with anybody outside of Dallas, but an arena full of people chanting “Jason Terry!” totally happened, and it was amazing. He has to sign a one day contract in Dallas this offseason so he can retire a Maverick.

Speaking of Terry, this game was basically a 2011 reunion. Dirk, JJ, and Terry all saw minutes, and with Jason Kidd on the sideline you had four players from the championship team. I half expected-slash-wanted DeShawn Stevenson to parachute down from the rafters. It was all good vibes between the guys, except for Kidd, who, while watching his team get destroyed by a two-win squad, was slowly turning into a supervillian.

If they had managed the elusive twentieth three point basket I would spend more time on it, but they ended up stuck on just nineteen, merely tying the franchise record for threes in a game. With the way the game is evolving I don’t expect this record to last long (maybe even the season). It was a regular blitzthreeg, which isn’t that clever but I still wanted to squeeze it in (and Dallas has two German players so I don’t think it’s inappropriate).

Winners thrice, Dallas can now turn their eyes towards a green-hot Boston team coming to town looking for their sixteenth straight.

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