MILWAUKEE — Losing a fourth straight game for the first time in more than two years — and the first game this season with fans at Fiserv Forum — was a bitter pill to swallow for the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.
Thanks to one of the quirks of the NBA schedule this season, they won’t have to wait long for their chance at revenge.
The Bucks and Toronto Raptors meet again Thursday night in the second of a two-game miniseries the league added to the scheduling process in order to cut down on travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Toronto is Milwaukee’s fourth miniseries opponent of the first half. Tuesday marked the first time the Bucks have dropped the first game in one of those series.
The Bucks are 5-2 in those contests. They split their first at Miami, swept Detroit at home and took two in Cleveland before falling to Toronto.
“I think they’ve been a positive, at least for our team,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “From a simplistic view, it’s keeping us safer during these challenging times and anytime you can reduce travel, the quality of play is better.”
These series also have the benefit of helping teams such as the Bucks prepare for the postseason, when opponents meet for as many as seven straight games and adjustments are required to be made quickly.
“I think it’s cool and it’s good for us because if you make mistakes in the first game, you can focus on what you need to get right to beat that same team the next day,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “I think that’s going to be big for us going into the later half of the year and in the playoffs.”
Tuesday’s game provided plenty for the Bucks to address. Here are three of the most notable:
The Bucks’ defense has been a work in progress, but the Raptors made a point to keep them from even getting set defensively by putting an emphasis on their transition game. It’s a tactic other teams have used against the Bucks that Budenholzer says requires players to remain focused.
“You can’t hesitate, you cannot relax, you cannot take one second off,” Budenholzer said. “Whether it’s a make or a miss or a dead ball, whatever the situation, you have to get back — all five guys — and be ready to guard.”
One of Budenholzer’s tweaks heading into the season was putting a greater focus on offensive rebounding, but he doesn’t think that emphasis has led to troubles with transition defense.
“It’s a lot of things,” Budenholzer said. “It’s not the easy ‘2-plus-2’. If it was, we could solve it quickly.’
Slowing things down
By getting out in transition more often, the Raptors were able to control the pace of the game, often getting the ball into the paint for easy baskets in the first few seconds of a possession.
Although the Bucks tend to play at a quicker pace, slowing the Raptors down will be a primary objective on the defensive end.
“If we can stay out in front of them, I think that clears up a lot for us,” Connaughton said.
When the Bucks lost back-to-back games at New Orleans and Charlotte at the end of January, backup guard D.J. Augustin described the team’s next game — a home contest against Portland — as a “must-win” game. The Bucks responded from those losses with a five-game winning streak but have since lost four in a row.
There are any number of technical reasons for their recent futility; offensive droughts, defensive letdowns and even the absence of point guard Jrue Holiday, who’s still sidelined under the league’s health and safety protocols.
And while all of those issues are concerning, Connaughton offered a much more direct analysis: the Bucks are simply being outplayed by their opponents.
“We just have to get better,” Connaughton said. “Honestly, we haven’t been good enough in our last four games and it’s shown. Teams are getting themselves up to play us so we have to be able to match their energy night in and night out.”
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