Annointed a contender after their 134-111 road victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, the Milwaukee Bucks showed they still have a ways to go on Saturday.
Showing none of the crispness that led to the impressive victory on Thursday, the Bucks sleep-walked through too much of the afternoon at the Staples Center on Saturday, suffering a 128-126 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Lou Williams drove through Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton and lofted a running one-hander just over Brook Lopez for the winner.
The Bucks were lucky to reach overtime, as Bledsoe’s 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds. The shot came at the end of a bad possession and needed five bounces off the rim and a bounce off the backboard.
The Bucks survived a missed shot by Danilo Gallinari to get into overtime.
The Bucks scored the first bucket of overtime on an alley-oop dunk by Giannis Antetokounmpo, but fell behind until Antetokounmpo’s dunk tied it at 126 with 1:00 left. The Bucks got it back after a miss by rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 38 seconds left, but Gilgeous-Alexander got it back for the Clippers by snuffing out a Bledsoe drive.
Rather than call a timeout, the Clippers got the ball to Williams out top. He drove around the right side and got his winning shot up between Bledsoe and Brook Lopez.
The Bucks started the game slowly in the first period and trailed by as many as 15 early in the second period. From there, the Bucks went on a 30-9 run to take a 57-51 lead.
Problem is, they never sustained that run.
After taking a 62-55 lead, the Bucks allowed the Clippers to score the next seven points to tie it before going to the half with a 64-62 lead.
“Brook getting hot making threes, and our energy and defense picked up there in the second,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said in his post-game press conference. “But you can’t do it just in stretches.”
Malcolm Brogdon’s layup gave the Bucks a 74-69 lead with 8:06 left in the third, then the Bucks went scoreless for the next 3:45 before Ersan Ilyasova scored off a rebound to end a 7-0 run and tie the game at 76.
The Bucks never again led in regulation. Bledsoe’s rim-rattling 3-pointer sent the game to overtime, and the Bucks led just once — after the first basket — in overtime.
Antetokounmpo’s dunk with a minute left created a 126-126 tie, The Bucks got the ball back with a chance to go ahead, but Bledsoe drove into a crowd and got stripped without getting anything near the rim. You can bet Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer would like a re-do on that possession.
After all the commentary from national NBA pundits following the blowout victory at Golden State, the Bucks needed to come out with energy and purpose. Instead, they played flat until a nine-minute stretch in the second quarter. But a letdown over the final minute nixed any momentum the Bucks should have had going into the half.
More letdowns in the second half led to a fourth-quarter deficit that required a lucky bounce to save the Bucks and get them into overtime. And poor possessions in overtime also contributed to the loss.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led all players with 27 points and 18 rebounds. But Clippers reserve Montrezl Harrell posted 26 points and nine rebounds. Worse, six of Harrell’s boards came at the offensive end.
Malcolm Brogdon added 23 for the Bucks, and Brook Lopez had 20. One thing of note: Lopez went 6 for 12 — all from behind the arc. He did nto attempt a single shot in the paint. Other stats of note included Pat Connaughton’s plus-23 rating and rookie Donte DiVincenzo’s minus-17.
Khris Middleton had a quiet night with 14 points. Worse, he had five turnovers and fouled out late in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t available for overtime.
The Bucks went just 9 for 24 in the first quarter. Antetokounmpo went 5 for 5 and Lopez went 4 for 4 in the second period, and the Bucks went 15 for 22 including 8 for 12 on threes. But that was the only period the Bucks shot 50% or better.
They fell back to 9 for 26 in the third quarter, 11 for 23 in the fourth and 3 for 10 in the overtime.
Honestly, they had one good spurt. And as Budenholzer said, you can’t just play well in stretches.
The Bucks have the talent to be really good. They appear to have the systems — offensively and defensively — to be among the best. Now they need to learn that contenders don’t just show up in stretches and lose winnable games.