Sluggish Bucks find a way to win against rival Bulls

Jan 1, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Bucks center Thon Maker (7) at an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE – The Thanksgiving weekend buzz at Fiserv Forum eased on Thursday morning, as the Milwaukee Bucks hosted the lowly Chicago Bulls. After three straight sell-out crowds, the attendance at Fiserv was a little down on the huge numbers from the holiday weekend just gone.

It was the second meeting between the two teams in the past fortnight, with the Bucks outscoring the Bulls by 37 points in the second half last time, storming home to erase a 22-point second quarter deficit. With that game in mind, the start was a key point of emphasis for a Bucks team looking to avoid back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.

The emphasis on a quick start failed to come to fruition however, as Milwaukee fell behind 40-30 through one-quarter in an eerily similar start to that last contest.

That’s where the similarities ended however, as Milwaukee needed every one of the 48 minutes to secure the victory, a Khris Middleton triple giving the Bucks a three-point edge with 5.2 seconds left on the clock. The Bucks would survive one last attempt from the Bulls, finishing 116-113 winners, improving to 15-6 on the season and 11-2 at home.

After receiving early minutes in the last couple of outings, Matthew Dellavedova was relegated down the pecking order while impressive rookie, Donte DiVincenzo re-claimed his usual key role. Speaking pre-game, Mike Budenholzer explained the thought process behind playing Dellavedova ahead of the returning DiVincenzo against Charlotte on Tuesday.

“I think there was maybe some thought that even though [DiVincenzo] had a practice with the team and was cleared and was ready that maybe another day or two might have been good,” Budenholzer said.

“Delly and Sterling and those guys have played well, but we got into a pretty big hole and just felt like we’d try something different, change it up and throw him in there and see if we could change the look of the game up a little bit.”

Nonetheless, it would appear that the Australian’s run in the rotation will be put on the back burner for now, as Milwaukee regain depth at the guard position. Dellavedova failed to see the floor against Chicago, breaking a run of four games in the rotation.

On the broader front, Bucks superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with a typically dominant stat line, filling the box score to the tune of 36 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon was also huge, finishing with 24 points on 6-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc.

Despite securing the win, Budenholzer was hardly satisfied post-game, suggesting the Bucks are not quite where they need to be despite their impressive record.

“I think we’re capable of being better for 48 minutes, I just think from the start of the game to the end of the game the focus, the defense, those types of things, it just doesn’t feel like we are where we need to be and we find ourselves in double-digit deficits,” Budenholzer acknowledged.

That attitude filtered through to the locker room where there was a feeling of satisfaction, but perhaps a little less jubilation than their other dominant victories.

Speaking with The Pick and Roll post-game, Maker acknowledged the issue is a point of emphasis in the locker room, though he was able to find a positive spin on the theme of falling behind.

“I take it as a positive that we’re never out of the game,” Maker said. “We’ve been talking about it and it’s not really a big concern, but we are paying attention to it. As a unit we are talking about starting better.

“Me personally, I don’t like it in terms of falling into a hole and having to dig ourselves out of it. It takes a lot of energy to come back in the second half, so we need to start better early on. It’s good that we can fight back and show that resiliency, but we have to start better.”

Maker went scoreless in 11:23 of court-time on Thursday morning, at times caught out of position on defense while struggling to curtail his enthusiastic aggressiveness on that side of the floor. After a positive start in the wake of John Henson’s wrist injury, Maker has had a little rough patch that he’ll need to bounce back from in order to keep earning playing time.

Milwaukee will now have two nights off, before making their first trip to Madison Square Garden on Sunday morning, Australian time.

The Milwaukee Bucks take on the New York Knicks on Sunday morning – Tip-off is at 9:00am (AEST)

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Australian basketball writer in Milwaukee 🇦🇺🛫🇺🇸 Free agent on the Bucks beat.

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