Ten Plays From The Win Over The Clippers That May Not Have Made The Highlights
Even back when it was still a game, in the first quarter, the Bucks were making plays that suggested it was their night, if not their month, if not their season.
Up 20–12, Donte DiVincenzo caught the Clippers sleeping on an out-of-bounds play, called for the ball under the hoop, and got it. But Montrezl Harrell recovered quickly and blocked DiVincenzo.
But as we have seen so many times throughout the season, DiVincenzo stayed aware, stayed hustling, and grabbed his own blocked shot. Instead of going back up in what was by then a thicket of three Clippers under the hoop, DiVincenzo dribbled out of trouble, found Wesley Matthews spotting up in the corner, kept moving, got the ball back, and always in motion, went to the rim and got fouled.
Hyper-awareness and constant activity on both sides of the ball has been a hallmark of DiVincenzo’s improvement this season. Against the Clippers, the whole team played with decisiveness and purpose. The result was a torrent of, call them you want, Coach Budenholzer called them winning plays. Every game I keep a running diary of plays or moments that stand out. I have hardly ever taken as many as in this one.
In his first game against Kawhi Leonard since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis looked as sure of himself as ever. (And rightfully so, considering he is undoubtedly better than he was in his MVP season last year.)
No matter who was guarding him, whether it was Patrick Patterson or Maurice Harkless or Leonard or whomever, Giannis consistently had a Plan A and Plan B before he caught the ball.
This is how you get an and-one with 20+ seconds on the shot clock after taking the ball out from under your own basket.
You can see the Clippers scrambling in that play above, not ready to react to the quick pass ahead to Giannis from Middleton. No one on the Bucks held the ball too long. There was a connectivity, a precision, an awareness that folded together in nearly every pass. Whether it was Middleton pushing ahead to Giannis, or Giannis dishing a more-difficult-than-it-looks interior short-range pass to Brook Lopez.
Lopez hit that hook, and anything he did on offense was a bonus, because he delivered an irresistible defensive performance. On all three of his blocks, he was not merely swatting the ball away. He was contesting and making every effort to keep possession. Even when it doesn’t work out, he is the thinking man’s shot-blocker.
He traps Leonard, forces a bad pass that deflects off the side of the backboard but improbably makes it to Ivica Zubac, blocks his shot, and still wants more! This time, the Bucks threw off Leonard’s team, instead of the other way around.
In a game between teams that can each make a case for having the best bench in the league this season, the reserves for the Bucks racked up an outrageous combined differential of +64. The aforementioned passing was a big part of that. Here, Middleton and Korver and Hill look like they have been playing together since they were kids. (They have not been.)
A full bench squad of Hill/DiVincenzo/Matthews/Korver/Ilyasova delivered some of the prettiest passing sequences of the game.
That is an assured bounce pass from Mr. Hill.
They kept it moving on the next possession, they kept the Clippers reacting.
At times, the Clippers showed glimpses why they are co-favorites to win the title this season. Paul George remains one of the silkiest players in the world, but on this night, it seemed that even when he shed one defender, there was another waiting.
Lopez was often that guy waiting, and the Bucks often pushed quickly the other way. This time, they were hitting a corner three before George could get up and to half court.
Giannis had plenty of birthday highlights, including getting up and over Zubac for one of his best dunks of the year. But it was the subtle touch he put on a running half-hook finish over Leonard after backing him down that hinted at a path toward the mid-range game that Giannis talked about needing after falling to Leonard in the playoffs last season.