MILWAUKEE — With their five-game winning streak snapped, the Milwaukee Bucks will try to start another Friday night against the Utah Jazz in what could be their biggest challenge of the season.
Not only are the Bucks going up against the hottest team in the league — the Jazz (20-5) have the best record — they’re doing so without their best defender and in a venue that has been historically frustrating.
Utah won 11 games in a row, starting with the resounding 131-118 victory on Jan. 8 in Milwaukee. Since that game, the Jazz have won 16 of their past 17.
Utah guard Donovan Mitchell led the way in that game, scoring a then-season-high 32 points with 20 in the second half, and was one of five Jazz players to score in double figures.
The victory snapped a two-game skid and moved the Jazz to 5-4. Although it was satisfying to knock off a potential NBA Finals contender, Mitchell already had his eyes on the bigger picture.
“That’s the team we have to be,” Mitchell said. “The last two games, last few games, don’t really represent who we are. We have to stay at that level.”
Since that night in Milwaukee, he’s averaging 25.5 points on 47.1% shooting while making 47.6% of his 3-point attempts to go along with 5.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds. On Tuesday, he had a season-high 36 points and nine assists, leading Utah to a 122-108 victory over the Celtics.
“He’s really able to understand the tempo of the game and is able to find his teammates,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “He’s improved every single year. But this year it feels like, especially these last few weeks, he’s been at his best.”
While the first meeting between the two teams was a catalyst for Utah, it exposed the biggest of Milwaukee’s weaknesses this season.
Most notably, was an inability to defend opponents’ 3-point shooting. Utah set a franchise record against Milwaukee, knocking down 25 shots from beyond the arc and becoming the first team in NBA history to have five players make at least four 3-pointers in the same game.
Overall, the Jazz shot 50.5% from the floor while the Bucks hit 44 of 98 shots but only 13 of 42 from distance. Milwaukee received only 10 points from its bench.
“They played well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of the Jazz after the game. “They executed their offense well. They shared it well. They made shots well. And on top of that, when they did miss, it felt like they were on the offensive boards all night.”
Milwaukee has done a better job defending the 3-pointer since and have held opponents to 36% shooting from distance over the past six games — the ninth-best mark in the league during that stretch. But with point guard Jrue Holiday sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, the challenge of stopping Utah’s offense will be significantly more difficult.
In that first meeting, the Jazz thrived off the pick-and-roll but instead of using Gobert to set screens, coach Quinn Snyder’s game plan called for his guards and wings to screen each other. That strategy forced Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez to protect the rim against Gobert and resulted in open looks for shooters such as Mitchell or easy drives to the basket.
“They got in the paint off those pick-and-rolls or the slip-outs and just wreaked havoc, collapsing the defense and making plays,” said Bucks wing Khris Middleton, who scored 31 points in the first meeting.
The Jazz are averaging 118 points on 46% shooting over their past 10 games while limiting opponents to 105.5 points on 43.7% shooting.
Milwaukee is 7-3 over its past 10 games, scoring an average of 124.4 points on 50.5% shooting while allowing 113.7 points on 45.5% shooting.
Social media buzzing after Giannis Antetokounmpo announces 5-year extension with Milwaukee Bucks
Light it up, light it up
Putting in work
Worth a 1,000 words
Just look at those moves!
Sure we have Rodgers, Braun and Yelich but man Giannis means everything and more to this state. He revitalized the city and brought life back into a dead end. We will forever be grateful for your presence. Now let’s get this ring #The414Way #TheGiannisWay 😤 https://t.co/0CIRV7G0Cy— O’ Sheehan Jr. (@misheehan68) December 15, 2020
How does Giannis signing the supermax impact the rest of the NBA? Also: @DarthAmin and I beg everyone to stop saying this is a victory for small-market teams, or proof the supermax works. This is proof that having a well-run, competitive organization works. Not bribes. pic.twitter.com/DL29clANJL— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) December 15, 2020
Not far off
Cry me a river
On his own terms
It's a Greek thing
An expert opinion
She's got a point
Ladies, if he didn't message to see how happy/excited you are that Giannis signed the supermax, then he isn't the one for you.— Alysa Z - Bango's Side Doe (@alysaz23) December 15, 2020
Turn back time
This is wild to go back in the time machine & read. For everyone who put into the NBA Karma bank in those old days & refused to give up. This afternoon had a little bit to give back to you. But seriously - Never Give up on your @bucks https://t.co/7S1AAyt85d— Andy Gorzalski (@AndyGorzalski) December 15, 2020
Making Dad proud
For as much as I enjoy what he’s done on a basketball court, this part of the Giannis story has always been what’s resonated most with me. It’s why I genuinely like the Antetokounmpo family. I only wish their dad were around to see what his boys have accomplished. https://t.co/xFEWf4TH5h— William®️🧐 (@MiltownBucky) December 15, 2020
Worth every penny— Vince Biegel (@VinceBiegel) December 15, 2020
Sending a statement
It’s such a relief that these Giannis rumors can finally be put to bed. It’s great that a small market was able to fend off the vultures & keep a marquee attraction. It’s even better that an MVP sees value in staying with the first organization to believe in him & let him shine.— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) December 15, 2020