MEMPHIS – The Milwaukee Bucks looked like they were headed for trouble early in the third quarter.
That 14-point lead they built in the first quarter had turned into a one-point deficit.
To make matters worse, Giannis Antetokounmpo – who had 21 points to that point and had been Milwaukee’s only consistent source of offense – picked up his third and fourth fouls within 9 seconds of each other with more than 9 minutes remaining in the period. He was going to have to sit and the Bucks were going to have to make do without him.
They did more than make do, though. They made sure the Memphis Grizzlies were done, going on a 19-0 run that effectively put the game away before cruising to a 111-101 rout on Wednesday night at FedEx Forum.
The win marked Milwaukee’s third in a row and brought the Bucks’ record to 6-0 against teams that had previously beaten them.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 111, Grizzlies 101
“I think it’s a sign of hopefully a good team,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Giannis is obviously important to us, but he gets a fourth foul and without anybody saying anything, at least in front of the coaches, I think they just all figured out we’ve got to step up and make a few more plays.
“Maybe we lean on Giannis at times like that. It was very impressive what they did.”
After a lackluster first half in which he was 1 of 7 from the field with four missed three-pointers and just one assist, Eric Bledsoe caught fire and laid the groundwork for Milwaukee’s third-quarter takeover.
Coming out of a timeout with 8 minutes 7 seconds left and the Bucks trailing, 59-58, Bledsoe drove and drew a foul, making both free throws. After a drawn charge by D.J. Wilson, Bledsoe finally connected from beyond the arc with a spot-up 27-footer. He followed that with a takeaway and layup, coaxing a Memphis timeout with his personal 7-0 run.
When the time came for him to step up, Bledsoe wasn’t going to let some missed shots in the first half hold him back from being the catalyst the Bucks (32-12) needed to make a comeback.
“It’s a long game, long season; you (can’t) put too much pressure on yourself to make shots,” Bledsoe said. “You’re going to make shots, that’s the name of the game. You’re going to miss shots. You’ve just got to keep playing the same way, take the same shots when they present themselves.”
Memphis’ timeout didn’t stop him, either. Following a Mike Conley miss, Bledsoe again got in close for a bucket off a feed from Khris Middleton, who finished with a team-high five assists to go with his 11 points and six rebounds. Bledsoe then, off a Sterling Brown steal, chucked a one-handed pass to Wilson in the corner with Wilson zipping the ball back to the wing to Brown for a triple.
Wilson, whose defensively versatility was on full display in the third, then extended for an acrobatic block that led to a Brown layup. Bledsoe added a steal – his second of three in the quarter – and dished to Middleton for a dunk then popped another triple to put an exclamation point on the 19-0 run. Bledsoe finished with 16 points on 5 of 13 shooting, including going 4 of 6 in the second half, along with four assists.
“We really needed him; we needed someone to step up and have a game like that,” Budenholzer said. “So impressive that he did it. That’s what it takes to get through an 82-game schedule – different nights it’s going to be different guys but Bled was phenomenal tonight.”
The Bucks got their lead up to as many as 23 before the end of the quarter thanks in part to some offensive flourishes from Wilson. He hit a spinning, step-back corner three-pointer, pump faked from the same spot before sidestepping for another triple and completed an alley-oop from Bledsoe on his way to a career-high 13 points. Brown, another key part of Milwaukee’s run, finished with 11 points off the bench.
“It was the group out there, too,” Bledsoe said, sharing the credit with his teammates. “We made great plays on the defensive end – Sterling, Khris, D.J. – all of us played together out there.”
Milwaukee didn’t have a glaring need for Antetokounmpo to re-enter the game in the fourth quarter, but he got a few minutes of run in anyway. In 3 1/2 minutes to open the quarter, he added six points to finish with 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go with 11 rebounds as the Bucks opened up their lead to as many as 31 points. After going without a dunk in three straight games, Antetokounmpo threw down four slams as part of his interior dominance.
As well as he played, though, Antetokounmpo was especially excited about the way his teammates picked him up when he was sidelined by foul trouble.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “That’s all about trust. I trust my teammates from the beginning of the season and I’m going to trust them until the end. They’ve been having my back every day and I think we did a great job just coming in and playing hard and playing fast and making shots.”