The driving force
Toughening up defense in second half is key
Defense has not been the strong suit of the Milwaukee Bucks this season. That’s something the team is intent on changing.
In the second half of Monday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Bucks brought the intensity they exhibited in their wins on Friday and Saturday night to claim a third successive victory, 110-103, at the Bradley Center in front of an engaged crowd of 13,244.
While tough defense is item No. 1 in the Bucks’ game plan, it took a half for it to actually show.
The Grizzlies, buoyed by a 36-point second quarter in which they made 10 of their first 11 shots, got 24 points off the bench from three players and weren’t stopped on back-to-back possessions until there were 3 minutes, 26 seconds left, took a 65-60 lead into halftime as neither team asserted much of anything positive on the de-
“In the first half it was a shootaround like this morning where we were just going through the motions and both teams were just going to play buddy ball and score,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said.
The easy looks the Grizzlies had been accustomed to weren’t there. Instead, there were defenders at every turn. Eric Bledsoe cut off drives, DeAndre Liggins hustled from end to end, taking multiple charges and the Bucks moved together to contest just about every shot.
“They was running, I think, one play in the first half that was working,” Bledsoe said. “We just had to stop that play and make them go to another option. Once we did that we just started getting rebounds and getting out in transition.”
Memphis went just 5 of 18 from the field in that third quarter, going without a field goal for nearly 4 1⁄2 minutes toward the end of the period. Milwaukee converted its defense into offense, turning a five-point halftime deficit into a sevenpoint lead by the end of the third. Then the dam broke again. Tyreke Evans went off in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his team-high 27 points to put Memphis up by five and flip the game yet again. That’s when Kidd called timeout and turned to his starting unit. They didn’t let him down.
“We knew what we had to do when we went back in,” Bledsoe said. “We knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game playing against a great, tough Memphis team. We just had to lock in and make plays.”
Milwaukee strung stops together and went on an 11-2 run out of the timeout, taking the lead for good.
Khris Middleton hit a jumper. John Henson made a nifty interior pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo for a dunk. Antetokounmpo kicked out from the paint to Tony Snell for a corner three. Antetokounmpo used all of his length to softly direct an alley-oop into the hoop.
Then Bledsoe, who handled initiating the offense down the stretch, blazed across the court for a layup to put the Bucks up 100-96. Kidd had been looking to call timeout on that play but Bledsoe was too fast, with Memphis coach David Fizdale instead asking for time after the bucket.
Memphis went just 3 of 14 over the final 7:39 of the game as the Bucks ground out the victory.
BEHIND THE BOX SCORE
Making it rain: The Bucks hit 12 of 22 three-pointers, marking the third time they have shot over 50% on three-pointers this season. Six of those threepointers came in the first quarter as the Bucks went perfect from beyond the arc with Middleton making all three of his attempts, Brogdon making two and Bledsoe adding a triple.
Feeling good: The Bucks entered the night not sure if Bledsoe would play because of a right knee contusion. Kidd let the drama build during his pregame press conference, stating only that Bledsoe was a game-time decision.
Bledsoe ended up logging 26 1/2 minutes and playing a pivotal role at the end.
Teams: Detroit Pistons (10-3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7-6).
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: BMO Harris Bradley Center. About the Pistons: Detroit’s comfortable 105-96 win over the Milwaukee at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 3 marked the beginning of a five-game win streak the Pistons will try to continue when they make their first visit to Bradley Center on Wednesday night.
Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe is fouled by Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks as he drives toward the basket during the second half on Monday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.