Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Bucks take over in 4th quarter, thanks to defense and loose balls
This was a fascinating game through the first three quarters, with both teams playing solid defense, countered by beautiful offense on both sides.
As the Bucks packed the paint to stop the Jazz, Utah responded with excellent ball movement to find open 3-point shooters and even layups inside. Meanwhile Milwaukee found ways to cleverly attack the Jazz without having to deal with Rudy Gobert inside as much, even as Gobert defended Giannis Antetokounmpo well.
But in the fourth quarter, the home Bucks simply outscored the Jazz by a total of 31-16. Some of that was familiar Jazz shooting woes, missing open shots. But truthfully, there were just a ton of incredible defensive plays to stop the Jazz, especially from Antetokounmpo himself.
That might have been enough, but the Bucks also gathered the loose balls, leading to several game-changing plays. The Jazz forced 14 Bucks missed shots in the 4th, but only got six defensive rebounds on those plays. For example, on this one, Thon Maker dove for the ball on the floor, got up, then scored the bucket for the and-one.
And Antetokounmpo even got into the act, diving for loose balls and keeping plays alive for his team. Here he cleverly held Joe Ingles' leg in the course of the play to prevent him from getting back into it.
Even though the Greek Freak went just 13-30 from the field, his impact on both ends showed why he is No. 2 in the MVP race right now, at least from my perspective. He was incredible, and absolutely the biggest reason the Bucks turned the game around on the Jazz.
Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell struggled in the 4th after a terrific first three quarters in which he scored 26 points. That’s understandable: Mitchell was being asked to play nearly the entire second half while taking a lion’s share of the playmaking duties with the injuries to Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum. Oh, and it was the end of a four-game road trip, the third game in four days, and in the building of the one of the best teams in the NBA. This isn’t a loss to worry about, in other words.
2. Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum hurt
Ricky Rubio started the game scoring nine of the Jazz’s first 11 points. And after stretching for the layup that finished his last basket, he pulled his hamstring. He knew it immediately, asking out of the game and frustratedly screaming and slapping the bench as he walked off the court. And within just a few minutes, Jazz PR let us know that he’d miss the rest of the game due to the injury.
That’s the second game in a row in which a Jazz point guard has gotten hurt after a tremendous start to the game; the same happened with Dante Exum against Detroit. And that leaves the Jazz with only Raul Neto at the point guard position.
The good news: Neto played excellently in the minutes he stepped into. He scored 10 on 4-8 shooting, added six rebounds and five assists, and you had the feeling that it could have been more had his teammates knocked down more looks. Obviously, Neto isn’t the interior threat Exum is, nor does he quite have Rubio’s mid-range ability or vision, but he’s started for the Jazz before, and he’ll do well enough in the role.
“He’s got a big heart and he’s a good player. We have confidence in the guys that we have. The guys who are able to go have to go," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “We’ll see where we are. We believe in Raul Neto. Donovan’s played some point before, and Joe has too.”
Mitchell showed off some awesome vision against the Bucks: although he only had one assist, he had some highlight-reel passes to set up his teammates.
Mitchell has faced this before: Rubio was out for the Houston series last year, and missed a few games in the middle of the season as well. “The biggest thing I learned from the Houston series is to not think of it as a change,” Mitchell said. “Just do what I do, and find open guys.”
3. Rudy Gobert vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
It’s rare you get to see the kind of battle that we witnessed on Monday night. To stop Antetokounmpo, the best interior scorer in the league, Snyder countered with Gobert, the best interior defender in the league. The unstoppable force vs. the unmovable object. Who would win?
Well, Antetokounmpo did, but Gobert made him work with some tremendous defense. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points in the contest, but fouled out and only shot 13-30 from the field. Given that he’s shooting 59 percent overall this year, that’s a win from a Jazz point of view.
But there was a back and forth that was really fun to watch. Giannis beat Gobert early in the game with this up and under:
And then Gobert countered with movement and length like this double-block:
“It was fun. He was going at me, and it was fun. He’s very long, he’s very athletic. And when he’s going at you, you have to meet him early," Gobert said. “He hit some tough shots, but I feel like we did a pretty good job.”
In the end, Gobert’s defense on Antetokounmpo allowed the Jazz to largely defend him without too much help. It was actually the Bucks’ secondary scorers, like Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and Thon Maker, that found success on their respective matchups-- and their success changed the game.