Heading into the team’s back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, Milwaukee Bucks guards Matthew Dellavedova and Sterling Brown had largely been relegated to the end of the bench, only seeing consistent court time in mop-up minutes of blowout wins.
But with injuries piling up — John Henson, Donte DiVincenzo and Ersan Ilyasova have all missed time — Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has had to dig deep on his bench. Thus, Dellavedova and Brown have gotten the call, with each answering the bell with key contributions over the past two games heading into Monday’s 6 p.m. matchup with the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center.
“Delly came in and played some great minutes for us,” point guard Eric Bledsoe said following Saturday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs. “He wasn’t playing, now he’s playing and producing. Sterling is the same way. We need everybody. Everybody is going to be big for us. Sterling came in and was fearless.”
Brown, who has taken over DiVincenzo’s rotation spot at least during the second quarters of the past few games, made his largest impact of the season on Saturday night. With the Bucks facing a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter, Brown earned the opportunity to stay on the court with the starters thanks to his defensive toughness and clutch shot-making, connecting on a pair of three-pointers in a three-minute span to help the Bucks go from down by 10 to within three points.
With 3 minutes, 45 seconds left, Brown gave way for Khris Middleton. However, he then subbed back in a minute later to give Bledsoe a rest and immediately affected the game, coming up with a steal. He missed the layup at the other end, but the Bucks retained possession. That’s when Budenholzer sent Bledsoe back in, with the starting point guard giving the second-year guard a complimentary smack on the backside as they changed places.
Middleton then hit a three-pointer on the extra possession provided by Brown that put the Bucks up by four. Brown finished the night with a season-high 11 points on 4 of 6 shooting, including 3 of 4 on three-pointers, as well as two rebounds, two assists and a steal in 16 minutes.
“Tonight I thought he really made some big plays, made a couple big shots,” Budenholzer said of Brown, who before Saturday had played more G League minutes (98 in three games) than NBA minutes (85 in 11 games) this season.
“I thought his toughness (was important), especially when they started playing some one-on-one — he can guard guys. He’s been working hard. I think he’s been kind of on the edge of breaking through a little bit, so it was great to see him make so many big plays and break through in the fourth quarter.”
Dellavedova also had a key moment in Saturday’s game, ending a 7-0 Spurs run that spanned the third and fourth quarters with a much-needed three-pointer to get Milwaukee’s deficit back to single digits. While five points on 2 of 2 shooting and three assists against San Antonio, it was Dellavedova’s performance against the Phoenix Suns on Friday that stood out more.
That’s when Dellavedova entered the game in the third quarter hoping to help spark a listless Bucks team that trailed by as many as 12 points. The seldom-used veteran point guard was part of a lineup that ended the period on an 11-0 run. One of his two assists — a kickout pass to Pat Connaughton for a three-pointer.
As much as the Bucks have welcomed Dellavedova’s contributions over the past two games, they’ve appreciated what he’s brought to the table all season even in a smaller role.
“I think Delly’s doing a great job even though he’s not getting on the court or playing like he used to last year,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo, who called Dellavedova one of the best teammates he’s ever played with. “He’s still talking to everybody, he’s still showing veteran leadership to this team and that’s big. Knowing you have a guy like that at the end of your bench, it gives the whole team positive vibes.”
Dellavedova, who is in his sixth season overall and third in Milwaukee, has maintained a positive attitude by drawing on his experience of being in this position before with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While other NBA veterans could — and do — react poorly to situations where they’re not being used as much as they’d like, Dellavedova refuses to follow that path.
“I mean, I’ve seen other people go the other direction, ya know?” Dellavedova said. “But I feel like my biggest strength is just being able to stay with it and keep working consistently over a long period of time. That’s how I got to the NBA and have had success in the NBA. Having that formula and seeing it work so many times before whether it’s with the Aussie national team or in the NBA, that gives me confidence to know that if I just keep working eventually it will work out.”
Both Brown and Dellavedova gave credit to Budenholzer and his coaching staff for keeping them prepared with daily individual workouts catered to developing their skills and keeping them fresh. They also have grown in solidarity with other players that have spent time out of the rotation, including Christian Wood, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, as they’ve waited for their chances to play.
That group has pushed each other, often staying on the court long after practices and shootarounds.
“In practice, we go at each other hard,” Brown said. “Our small, little group and a group of coaches, we play five-on-five after practice and we go at each other. We go at each other hard. Me and Delly always going at each other, C-Wood, Thon, we just go at each other. We keep each other mentally prepared because it’s a grind, it’s a long season. We’ve just got to stay sharp.”
Splash Mountain re-opened: Bucks center Brook Lopez set an ignominious NBA record Friday night by missing all 12 of his three-point attempts. By the seventh or eighth miss, the Fiserv Forum crowd had turned on him, groaning with each attempt, open as it may have been.
After the game, while still in his uniform, Lopez was summoned out of the locker room by assistant coach Ben Sullivan. Together, they watched all of his shots.
“We just went through and we felt the majority of them – all of them – were open, in-rhythm looks,” Lopez said. “The vast majority of them felt good and looked good. That helps the confidence as well, looking back at them. … It was good, positive reinforcement.”
Though he lost the crowd, he never lost his teammates or coaches. Throughout Friday, he was constantly told to keep shooting and after the game, Budenholzer praised the fortitude he showed by continuing to put up quality shots.
Budenholzer then started Saturday’s game by scripting a play for Lopez. The Bucks got the ball to Antetokounmpo just off the block and with all eyes on him, he darted a pass to Lopez near the top of the key. Lopez confidently fired off a three and swished it.
“It gives me unlimited confidence,” Lopez said of having the first play drawn up for him. “I felt everyone was on my side and had my back and it’s a great feeling.”
Meeks waived: The Bucks waived guard Jodie Meeks on Sunday. Milwaukee acquired Meeks in an Oct. 15 trade with the Washington Wizards, also receiving cash and a second-round pick in the deal.
Meeks never actually spent time with the Bucks, though, as he served out the remainder of a 25-game suspension levied last season. When the suspension period ended after Saturday’s game, the Bucks waived Meeks to keep their roster at 15 players.
According to an ESPN report, the Bucks received $1.5 million from the Wizards in the trade, essentially buying a future second-round pick for $1.3 million. That pick will is top-45 protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2022. Milwaukee’s recent purchased pick was Brown in 2017, a trade in which the Bucks sent the Philadelphia 76ers $1.9 million for the rights to the 46th overall pick.