Any hope the Milwaukee Bucks had to compete this year disappeared back in November, when injuries decimated the lineup and the team went on an 11-game losing streak.
That was the beginning of the end of the Bucks’ 2013-14 season as the losses continued to pile up. The team still has yet to post consecutive victories all year, and has gone on losing streaks of 11, nine, and six games.
The only positive, then, in a season so riddled with negatives is the gradual improvement of Milwaukee’s young core. Wins and losses no longer define the season. Rather, it’s the stat lines of guys like Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and learning how to win close games.
So the news coming from Monday’s 101-98 over the bumbling New York Knicks is doubly encouraging. The young players played well, and they helped stave off a Knicks’ comeback attempt in thrilling fashion.
We start with Knight. Knight, 22, has been the team leader in several per-game statistics this season, including points, assists, and minutes. On Monday, he scored 25 points on 10-23 shooting. He dished out seven assists and nailed four of his eight three-point attempts.
It was his last three-pointer that was most impressive. After the Knicks tied the game at 98 with 19 seconds left, Knight calmly brought the ball up the court, never rushing or looking jittery even though the Bucks did not have a timeout remaining. Knight set up just past the half-court line and waited. Running isolation, Knight finally began moving forward at about the five-second mark, pulled up at the arc and drained a stone-cold dagger to win the game.
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo, playing in front of his family for the first time, showed off his brilliant athleticism on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter. He was fearless when he got the ball on a fastbreak opportunity, once going straight to the basket and drawing a foul, and another time passing the ball up ahead to Knight. On that play, Knight missed a contested layup, but Giannis trailed him perfectly and threw down a put-back slam that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
On another possession, Antetokounmpo drove past a flopping J.R. Smith and went straight at Tyson Chandler, one of the best post defenders in the league. Giannis athletically went up-and-under and dropped in a sweet reverse layup. He can be inconsistent at times, but plays like that show how exciting this 19-year-old rookie’s potential is.
Not to be forgotten, Khris Middleton had an excellent game as well. The second-year forward was 5-6 from long distance, scoring 19 points. He has been a steal for the Bucks this year, who acquired him from Detroit in the Brandon Jennings-for-Brandon Knight trade. Middleton was basically a throw-in player, but he’s performed beyond his expectations. Playing in a variety of roles, he’s averaged nearly 11 points per game.
Fans haven’t had much to cheer for this season, but those in attendance on Monday were certainly rewarded. A win in the final seconds brings some much-needed joy and relief to the players, especially when it’s against the big market laughingstock Knicks. While the team’s losing ways will likely continue, a win like this reinvigorates the franchise and the fan base, and reminds us that better days are ahead for the Bucks.