For years, the Milwaukee Bucks have been excitedly awaiting their first opportunity to play at Fiserv Forum. On Wednesday night, with the Chicago Bulls in town for Milwaukee’s preseason opener, the Bucks put on quite the show to christen their new digs.
Armed with a dynamic offense featuring a barrage of three-pointers, plenty of spacing and unselfish ball movement, the Bucks dominated the contest in a 116-82 blowout victory in coach Mike Budenholzer’s first game at the helm.
“We’ve been playing against each other for the last month and a half, so it was definitely good to play against somebody else and use what we’ve been working on,” Khris Middleton said.
The three-point shooting was easily the most noticeable difference in the Bucks’ attack, and it was strikingly obvious to all 15,107 people in attendance. Milwaukee’s 45 long-range attempts represented more than the team has taken in any regular-season game since at least 1983. Last season’s high of 36 was tied for the team’s most.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 116, Bulls 82
Fifteen of the 16 Bucks players who played attempted at least one three-pointer. Individual success ranged from Pat Connaughton (4 of 6) and Eric Bledsoe (3 of 6, including a shot from nearly half court to beat the halftime buzzer) to rookie Donte DiVincenzo, who went 0 for 5 from long distance in his first NBA game.
In the second quarter, matched up one-on-one against former running mate Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo even got in on the action, pulling up for an in-rhythm three that caught nothing but net. It’s the kind of shot Antetokounmpo has rarely attempted in the past.
“The offense we run right now, there is going to be a lot of open threes,” Antetokounmpo said. “We just got to run to our spot, make sure our spacing is great and if me, Bledsoe and Khris do our jobs — drive and kick, be aggressive — everybody is going to shoot the ball. Everybody is going to touch it and shoot it.”
The Bucks finished 15 of 45 (33.3%), which isn’t a high percentage relative to an average NBA team, but it looked great compared to what the Bulls cobbled together. Chicago looked woeful all night, shooting 32.4% overall and 7 of 41 (17.1%) on treys.
Milwaukee’s defense was solid but can’t take full credit for Chicago’s off night. The Bucks had some lapses in execution, judgment and communication, especially early on, but the Bulls weren’t able to make the Bucks pay with any consistency.
It didn’t help the Bulls that they couldn’t buy a bucket for long stretches, either. As a microcosm of Chicago’s struggles, Parker, making his return to Milwaukee after leaving this summer in free agency, made the first basket of the game then missed his last 11 attempts in 18 1/2 minutes.
Still, the Bucks were heartened by holding the Bulls to 82 points, with the number 82 written prominently on a whiteboard in the locker room after the game.
“You could see how he wants us to play, how to use our length in our coverages and he changes it up during the game, which is different for us,” Middleton said. “I think guys are learning and taking a grasp of it.”
As well as they limited the Bulls’ scoring, Wednesday night wasn’t about Milwaukee’s defense. The offense, still getting accustomed to Budenholzer’s system, looked to be a fearsome attack in mid-season form.
With shooters spaced around them all over the floor, Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe were able to orchestrate the offense at will. Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points on 10 shots, 13 rebounds and five assists in 22 minutes, and Bledsoe put up 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 21 minutes. Add in 15 points, including 3 of 4 from three-point range, for Middleton and the Bucks’ three star players undeniably got off on the right foot.
More than the numbers the Bucks accrued, the team looked polished offensively and seemed to be enjoying their new-found freedom. There was room to operate, everyone got their chances and no one was going to get chastised for putting up an open shot, of which there were plenty.
The spacing was consistently there and the ball moved quickly to players who were in position for open looks. At their peak, the Bucks played seemingly effortless, fun and beautiful basket, descriptors that are hallmarks of the offensive brand Budenholzer learned in San Antonio and employed as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks.
“If we’re open we’re encouraging them to let it fly,” Budenholzer said. “I think it starts with attacking the basket … we want to attack the paint and we want to get to the basket and hopefully create rotations, create help and play with the pass and hit open guys. A lot of good examples of spacing. …
“If it’s 45 threes one night, that’s great. If it’s a bunch of layups and free throws another night, most every team’s probably got some kind of similar hope.”
Tip-ins: Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe, Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon were the starters for the opener. Those five combined to shoot 26 of 43 (60.5%) from the floor. …
D.J. Wilson (right hamstring), Sterling Brown (left hamstring), Trevon Duval (eye) and Matthew Dellavedova (coach’s decision) did not play. Brown hopes to be back in action for Sunday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. …
Connaughton went 4 for 5 on three-pointers in the second half alone to finish with 12 points. John Henson added 10 points off the bench along with three blocks. …
The Bucks committed just 12 fouls, fewer than any regular-season or playoff game last season.