The driv­ing force

Tough­en­ing up de­fense in sec­ond half is key

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - Matt Ve­lazquez

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-

fen­sive end.

“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.

UP NEXT

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.

MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

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.

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