MILWAUKEE – Thanksgiving Eve in Milwaukee produced a sellout crowd and an electric environment at Fiserv Forum, though the fans in attendance needed little extra motivation.
The Portland Trailblazers had surprised early in the season to hold the Western Conference’s first place, while the Milwaukee Bucks were equally impressive, completing their best 16-game start to a season since 1985/86.
For the Bucks, the night presented a new challenge however, as they faced a team that had previously beaten them on the season for the first time. The Blazers topped Milwaukee 118-103, just 15 days ago, as CJ McCollum exploded for 40 points. This one provided little in the way of a challenge for Milwaukee though, as they broke their recent habit of slow starts to explode to a 31-20 lead after one quarter.
That hot start proved only the beginning, as the Bucks obliterated the Blazers, running out 143-100 victors.
Portland was coming off a back-to-back in New York, and the team looked every bit as fatigued as you might have assumed. The Bucks repeatedly waltzed to the rack with ease, ending up with 72 points in the paint, resulting in endless open looks from the perimeter as the game wore on.
Speaking with The Pick and Roll post-game, Thon Maker pointed to that fatigue being a factor on the night, before giving another possible insight into what might have spurred on the outburst.
“Also, a little bit of credit to my playlist pregame," Maker said with a smile. "Me and coach talked about that and I had to find a way to get everybody pumped up so I’ll take a little bit of credit for that.”
A 22-point halftime margin effectively sealed the game, with Giannis Antetokounmpo racking up 25 points, mostly on dunks, as the festive mood within the Forum reached fever pitch.
If you hadn’t already followed the trend in this one, the margin continued to swell in the fourth, as the real interest became fixed on whether or not Antetokounmpo could register a triple-double before being pulled for the night.
Being short on four assists for the triple-double, Antetokounmpo had dished on three straight triples. The Forum crowd rose to their feet, eagerly anticipating a fourth. First Connaughton misfired, before Maker received the ball in the corner, only to pump fake and step out-of-bounds. The groans from the Forum crowd were only matched by Anteokounmpo, who threw his hands in the air, wanting Maker to follow through on the squad's mantra of ‘letting it fly’. Budenholzer removed his star soon after to a standing ovation from a joyous home crowd.
The seldom-used players at the end of the Bucks rotation hit the floor in the fourth, remarkably providing the Bucks with their biggest point differential in a quarter, outscoring Portland 34-21.
Maker would finish with 11 points and eight rebounds, connecting on three of his seven tries from deep. Among the last quarter highlights was a Boomer-to-Boomer connection, where Delly appeared to be looking for Maker in transition, before missing the layup, allowing his Australian teammate to finish with a jam.
The Pick and Roll asked Maker postgame if the miss from Dellavedova could have been intentional.
“I hope not,” Maker said with a laugh. “Delly would do something like that, but the defence ruined that one for us. I probably, ah, coach would say no off the backboard, but I would’ve said off the backboard.”
Dellavedova chipped in with two points and four rebounds in eleven fourth quarter minutes.
The smiles were evident in the locker room post-game, though the players were quicker than usual to head out of the arena, anxious to enjoy their Thanksgiving with friends and family.
The smiles are nothing new however, as the group continues to build chemistry through their successes. This was never more evident than in the last quarter, when the entire starting group where on their feet cheering on their team mates. This isn’t always the norm in the NBA, and Budenholzer spoke to the tight-knit nature of the squad post-game.
“I think the connectivity and togetherness of the group is good, I think it started this summer,” Budenholzer said.
“There’s great leadership with Giannis and Khris and Delly, you keep going down with some guys that have really fit in well. I think they’re enjoying playing with each other and they’re playing unselfishly on both ends of the court. That just fosters the camaraderie and that togetherness that’s been a message that’s super important to us as we go forward.”
As the night drew to a close, it brought with it the beginning of a rare day off on the NBA schedule. At the first intermission of the regular season, the Bucks find themselves 2.5 games away from the top of their division, and a mere game from the Toronto Raptors for the conference lead.
With a new coach and a new system, you could hardly ask for a better start.
The Milwaukee Bucks are back in action Saturday morning against the Phoenix Suns - Tip-off is at 12:30pm (AEST).