Following the trade that brought Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks, the initial impression that came to mind was that the team’s offense would be unbeatable. The New York Knicks were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 146-122 in the quarterfinals of the NBA’s first-ever In-Season Tournament on Tuesday night. This is exactly what they were doing.
“I thought this was probably our best offensive game,” Lillard told reporters. What did we end up scoring? What is it, 146 or something similar? In addition to that, we failed to leave a significant number of points on the board. We could not make some free throws and some shots in the paint to the basket. It would have been possible for this game to end with 165 points.
During their season-high performance in points and three-pointers, the Bucks shot 60.4% from the field and 60.5% from beyond the three-point line. For the first time since 1985, they shot at least sixty percent from the field and beyond the arc in the same game. Additionally, they were the fourth team in the sport’s history to make at least twenty-three three-point shots while shooting sixty percent or better. All of this against a Knicks club that has a defense that is ranked among the top ten in the league.
After recovering from an early injury to his ankle, Giannis Antetokounmpo played the role of a battering ram to provide the Knicks with a significant advantage. He was responsible for ten of the first twelve points scored by the Bucks through a confluence of forceful drives and agile finishes near the basket. Due to the presence of Lillard, the two-time Most Valuable Player does not have to deal with the arduous task of staying awake throughout the entire night. It was Lillard’s chance to shine in the second quarter, and he filled it with a barrage of three-point shots, scoring 14 points in the process.
Lillard and Antetokounmpo aren’t running as many pick-and-rolls as everyone thought, but they’re finding a way to prosper without detracting from one another. The Bucks are 8-2 in their last ten games, with both players scoring in the top 14 in the league, averaging 57.7 points and 14.9 assists per game. Antetokounmpo has a field-goal percentage of 63.9%, while Lillard has a mark of 47.7%, including 41.5% from deep.
On Monday night, Antetokounmpo finished with 35 points, eight rebounds, and ten assists, while Lillard scored 28 points and seven assists.
“I really like how we’re starting to learn each other,” Lillard told reporters. “There have been some bumps in the road where we don’t play as well on some nights, but we still win those games.” It’s only now that things are starting to smooth out. Knowing where we should be on the floor, giving each other outlets, and allowing each other to be ourselves. It’s not ideal, but I enjoy that we’re improving and that it’s transferring to the floor.”
Even the league’s top 1-2 punch needs assistance, and the Bucks’ supporting group has thrived. This season, six different players have reached double figures, which is tied for the third-most on a single squad in the league.
Malik Beasley stepped up against the Knicks. The veteran shooting guard scored 18 points on 6-of-10 3-point shooting, his fourth game with at least six 3s this season. Only Stephen Curry has done so more frequently (seven times).
With Antetokounmpo and Lillard hogging the spotlight, Beasley thrived on wide-eyed looks. None more spectacular than when Antetokounmpo found Beasley all by himself in the corner for an exclamation point 3.
“In training camp, we kept smiling because it was so easy with our spacing,” Beasley told me. “You can see it now… I’m in a role where I’m supposed to be the X-factor and knock down shots. When Giannis and Dame have the ball so much, the emphasis is all on them, and there will be occasions when I have to knock down three to four shots right away. I’ve done a terrific job at it. Just keep focused because I know my duty is to protect and shoot.”
The Bucks’ defense is still an issue, but given how easily they score, it may not matter.
They are now third in the league in offensive rating at 119.2, second in true shooting at 61.4%, seventh in 3s per game at 14.5, and seventh in free throw rate at 0.282 following their annihilation of the Knicks. If you don’t care about sophisticated statistics, they’ve scored at least 130 points seven times, second only to the Pacers.
They’re only getting started, they say.
“I definitely expected us to be great because of the kind of people we have on the team, not necessarily the talent,” Lopez told reporters. “Obviously, the talent is there, but the character of the guys is what will propel it to success.” “As good as we were tonight, I don’t think we’re anywhere near where we’ll be by the end of the season.”