Before Friday night’s game at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was asked what he expected from a matchup of his team’s top-rated offense and the Jazz’s top-rated defense. “You hope our first is better than their first,” he responded.
Well, the Jazz’s defense was lockdown in the first half. And the Bucks’ offense was incendiary in the second. As a result, after 47 minutes and 58.7 seconds, the teams remained as tied as they were at the opening tip.
So then, there was nothing left to do but for the Jazz’s offense to at last save the day, a job for which Bojan Bogdanovic happily volunteered, as he scored the last of his 33 points on a buzzer-beating triple from the left corner, enabling Utah to survive a frantic finish for a 103-100 victory.
“He’s a heck of a player; he can score the ball a lot of different ways,” said coach Quin Snyder. “His toughness is what differentiated him, particularly in the second half.”
Snyder praised Bogdanovic and point guard Mike Conley for altering the play the coaches drew up, based on what they were expecting from the Bucks’ defense on that final play.
Not that it should have come to that.
After the Jazz blew all of the eight-point lead they’d fought to with 1:31 left, they still had a chance to win it with 8 seconds remaining, only for Donovan Mitchell to get stripped of the ball, and Milwaukee to gain possession with 2.3 seconds to go.
The Bucks’ own shot at winning it went similarly awry, as Khris Middleton was whistled for traveling, leaving Utah 1.3 more seconds and one final chance.
This time, thanks to Bogdanovic, they came through.
“He’s made my life 10 times easier — he’s made everybody’s life 10 times easier,” said Mitchell, who tallied 19 points, six assists, and five rebounds, but shot only 8 for 22. “He’s a good player, and he’s gonna continue to have games like this.”
The idea of needing last-second heroics seemed laughable in the game’s opening minutes, as Utah rushed out to a 7-0 advantage while Milwaukee missed its first five shots. That trend continued for most of the opening 24 minutes of play.
At the break, the Bucks were shooting just 21.7% overall, and 20.8% from deep. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had but two points, three rebounds, and three assists on 0-for-7 shooting. Utah led on the boards, 36-21. And, more importantly, Utah led on the scoreboard, 55-35.
Conley was a big factor in that as well, as he racked up 19 of his 20 points in the first half on 7-for-8 shooting, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc.
Not that anyone expected it would remain that easy, of course.
Milwaukee came out more aggressive in the third quarter, and between blitzing Utah with 3s and fast breaks on one end, and forcing the Jazz into 2-for-12 shooting on the other through the first half of the period, their 21-5 run closed the gap to a mere four points.
After his slow start, Antetokounmpo finished with 21 points in that period alone (and 30 for the game), as the Bucks outscored Utah 39-26.
The Jazz were able to avoid complete catastrophe by Bogdanovic catching fire and scoring 15 himself in the quarter.
Still, that was nothing compared to what would happen just about 12 minutes later.
Asked what did happen on the final play, Bogey would eventually give a detailed explanation, though initially he simply responded, “I had a pretty decent look.”
And did he think that pretty decent look was going in as the ball left his hand?
“I saw it right away,” he answered with a smile.