It looked like the Milwaukee Bucks had shaken off the malaise that had inexplicably clouded them from the tip. After struggling through most of the first three quarters, they put together a 27-4 run over 5 1/2 minutes spanning the third and fourth quarters to turn a 15-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
They had finally woken up and were seemingly on track to their seventh straight win at Fiserv Forum, which went from silent to roaring during that 5 1/2-minute stretch. But the Memphis Grizzlies had other plans, stunning the Bucks with a late push and escaping with a 116-113 victory Wednesday night.
“I thought we had probably two stretches of the game – in the second quarter and a stretch that went from the end of the third quarter into the fourth – where we played well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But you can can’t do it in two stretches. You have to play for 48 (minutes). They did it for more of the game than we did tonight.”
BOX SCORE: Grizzlies 116, Bucks 113
Following Milwaukee’s big run, Memphis immediately chipped away at the margin with a pair of three-pointers. The Bucks punched back, continuing to hold the lead and bringing their advantage back to five points on a three-pointer by Eric Bledsoe with 5 minutes 20 seconds left.
Then, in a game of runs, came the one that changed everything.
The Grizzlies rattled off eight straight points to take the lead, including six from Garrett Temple. Following a dunk by Marc Gasol, who led the Grizzlies with 29 points, Budenholzer called a timeout. The purpose of that timeout was partially to stem the tide of the run that had put the Grizzlies ahead, 102-99.
It was also partially to voice his frustration with the referees, who on the previous play had whistled Malcolm Brogdon for being out of bounds while neglecting the apparent push that sent him there.
After calling timeout, Budenholzer began walking across the court and appeared to say, “What was that?” from a distance. He was immediately assessed his second technical of the night, meaning he was ejected from the game. The referee who made the call was Phenizee Ransom, who according to the FOX Sports Wisconsin broadcast was working his second game of the season and the 13th of his career.
From the look on his face, it was apparent Budenholzer was surprised by the sudden decision, though after the game he refused to give voice to feeling that way.
“That’s a good question,” Budenholzer said when asked if he was surprised at being thrown out. That’s as far as his answer went.
A technical free throw by Temple and a three-pointer by Mike Conley, who finished with 26 points, and the Bucks found themselves down by seven and on the wrong end of a 12-0 run.
They never recovered, pulling as close as two points. That was the margin with 26.0 seconds left when Conley, who was well-defended and at times seemed out of control, popped in a tough eight-footer to beat shot clock. It was also the margin with 2.9 seconds remaining when, deep into the five-second count on the inbound, Ersan Ilyasova was called for an away-from-the-play foul that was confirmed on review and gave the Grizzlies a free throw and the ball back.
Thanks to missed free throws by Conley and Shelvin Mack, Milwaukee had one last chance to tie the game down by three with 2.1 seconds left. However, Khris Middleton’s last-second fling while surrounded by three Grizzlies banked no good.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was 10 of 14 from the field and made 11 of 12 free throws, finished with a team-high 31 points and Middleton had 25 points in the loss. Outside of those two, the Bucks struggled to find consistency on offense, and as a team, went 9 of 35 on three-pointers, including 4 of 23 in the first half.
“I felt like we could play with more energy, we could be better executing,” Budenholzer said. “There were, I think, a decent number of shots that were good looks that we just didn’t make. … I didn’t think there were any forced or bad threes or anything like that.”
Despite frigid shooting during the first three quarters and a general malaise around the team, the Bucks made things interesting with that 27-4 run. It started when Budenholzer put out a lineup of Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Pat Connaughton and Thon Maker, who was making his first appearance in meaningful minutes since Oct. 29.
Bledsoe got things going with a layup then Maker, on his first defensive possession, blocked a shot that led to a Connaughton three-pointer. Connaughton then added another three-pointer and the Bucks were on a roll, finishing the third quarter on a 13-2 run.
Milwaukee’s success spilled over into the fourth, with Connaughton and Bledsoe dunks tying the game in a flash. Maker added a three, Antetokounmpo threw down a dunk while drawing a foul and Connaughton capped the run with a layup to put the Bucks up 94-86 with 9 minutes 8 seconds left. During that stretch, Connaughton scored 12 of his 16 points.
“Our activity was significantly greater,” Budenholzer said of the run. “I thought Thon gave us a great boost off the bench, Connaughton gave us a great boost off the bench, Eric got active in the passing lanes and created some steals. I’m sure Giannis was participating in that. I thought our defensive activity just got a lot better and it just fueled some transition buckets. Just good things for us.”
But that was the high-water mark for the Bucks, who couldn’t sustain their high level of play down the stretch on the way to their first home loss of the season — and an especially frustrating one at that.
“I think some of it had to do with the energy,” Connaughton said. “For us, we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Coming off the road, there’s plenty of things you could say as to why this had the let-down mentality of a game, but those are the things we want to make sure we don’t have. That’s what defines a good team or a great team.”
Man down: Bucks rookie Donte DiVincenzo exited the game in the second quarter due to left knee soreness and did not return. He played about 6 1/2 minutes, scoring three points on 1 of 2 shooting.
DiVincenzo’s left knee got some extra attention in the locker room following a loss Saturday to the Los Angeles Clippers. The next day, DiVincenzo had a large bag of ice on the knee following the Bucks’ win over the Denver Nuggets.
“He banged it a while ago and I think he’s been playing – I guess nagging might be an appropriate description of it – but obviously not enough for him not to play and do a lot of good things,” Budenholzer said, noting DiVincenzo would be re-evaluated Thursday. “Maybe tonight crossed the line and he couldn’t play, couldn’t finish.”