Bucks plagued by another slow start in loss to Nets: ‘Nobody is going to give you games’
BROOKLYN — As the Bucks headed to the visiting locker room at the Barclays Center after a lackluster first half on Friday night, they were trailing 60-47.
The Bucks have won the vast majority of their games in the first half of games this season and outscored their opponents at eight points per 100 possessions, but retiring to their locker room has become an unfortunate habit. The Bucks were behind at halftime in four of their last five games, and after losing 118-100 in Brooklyn on Friday night, they are now behind in three of those four games by double figures.
After Friday’s game, Bucks starting guard Grayson Allen (three points, five rebounds) struggled to find an answer to the team’s recent slow starts.
“I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for you,” Grayson Allen said. “We’ve had some games where we didn’t shoot the ball well from 3 as a team. That could be part of it. We play some teams who got hot in the first half.”
Starting center Brook Lopez (23 points, five rebounds) didn’t want to look for an answer, as he believes slow starts shouldn’t become a habit.
“Hmm, I don’t know if I really want to attribute that to anything, you know? I mean, it’s not what we’re supposed to be doing, whatever it is,” Lopez said. “It’s not really who we are. There are many excuses or whatever else one could throw away and say, but it’s just obviously not what we need to do.
Starting point guard Jrue Holiday (18 points, three rebounds and five assists) admitted the team is trying to figure it out, but pointed the finger at themselves.
“I have a feeling we’re trying to figure it out,” Holiday said. “I feel like we’re getting a lot of good shots, a lot of missed 3s, a lot of chances. But there are also times when I feel like I’m trying too hard myself and turning the ball over, they switch and get up pretty quickly.
After pausing briefly to gather his thoughts, starting power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists) gave a nearly two-minute speech describing what the Bucks have been missing in the first half of late and for what urgency they must start games with in order to advance.
“I don’t know,” said Antetokounmpo. “I think being smug. We feel good. We just expect, I don’t know, (that) people will just give us games. That will not do. I think you need to go out there and take it somehow. You have to go out there and play good basketball, develop good habits, defend and somehow, you know, compete.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone in life will give you anything. You don’t get things in life because you’re prettier or smarter than everyone else or cooler than everyone else, you have to go out there and enjoy it. That’s what sport is about, about being competitive. I feel like sometimes we, I trust my teammates, I trust the guys, I trust what we’re doing here, but sometimes I think we get to a point where I don’t know, and we’re like, ‘Oh ‘You’re going to give us the game today’ and that’s not how it works.
“You have to go out there and take things, take things that we want. Nobody will give you games. Nobody will give you a championship. Nobody will give you a trophy. No one is going to give you credit for being good or for how cool you are and for how well you played. You have to go out and play basketball. Don’t talk about it, be there, play about it.
“But like I said, I trust my teammates. I trust what we have built here. And even though we’ve lost twice in a row now, I’m not worried. I’m not worried at all. Khris will be back. boys get well. As long as we’re healthy, we leave the pitch healthy, we always have a chance.”
The Bucks still have one of the best records in the NBA. (Following their loss to the Nets and the Boston Celtics’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, they now sit a half-game down on the Celtics before the team’s showdown on Christmas Day.) Their full-season numbers are still largely flat held. But they just haven’t been playing like one of the top teams in the NBA lately, and their first-half mistakes were a big part of what made their last stretch so tough.
Like the Memphis Grizzlies did early in that rough patch for the Bucks on December 15, the Nets made pushing the ball into the transition to start the game a priority.
The Bucks could have been a little luckier with offensive possession. They created a drive-and-kick corner 3 for Lopez (40 percent from 3, with 53 percent coming from the corners), but it didn’t fall and the Nets almost immediately gave the Bucks a problem with a powerful kick-ahead pass from Ben Simmons. Antetokounmpo got ahead of Royce O’Neale and saved him from a layup in transition, but then lingered too long with Holiday on Kevin Durant, causing O’Neale to fire an open three-pointer.
Overall, though, as Holiday mentioned, the Bucks just need to pay more attention to basketball in the first half. While Wednesday wasn’t quite as bad as their 16 first-half turnovers against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bucks still had nine first-half turnovers on Friday in Brooklyn.
While the Nets switched when in possession and defended well, Antetokounmpo is better at protecting the ball in this situation. Avoiding a turnover on this holding keeps the Bucks from giving up an easy bucket at the other end, too.
“We have to be more careful with the ball,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “We have to make better decisions. We can’t just have possessions without shots. It’s up to me I think I need to coach them better. We have to work on being more careful with the ball.”
Holiday’s turnover below didn’t ultimately translate into points for the Nets, but it was another possession that the Bucks didn’t even get a chance to shoot. They shot the ball poorly from deep on Friday (9 of 37 from behind the 3-point line), but they at least have a chance to score if they attempt a shot. This only erases any opportunity to score:
The Bucks have typically fought back in the second half of these games and eliminated the big deficits they faced, but trying to win games this way is incredibly difficult.
“Going to 20 in the first half isn’t fun playing the rest of the game,” Allen said. “We’re doing a good job fighting and recovering, but it’s hard to win when you’re so down. Yeah I don’t know, just come out with a little more energy and make their shots a little harder to launch so they don’t have rhythm the rest of the half.
It’s only December and the Bucks still have one of the best records in the league, but they need to refocus their efforts and attention to detail and break free of their lackluster first-half habits.
(Photo by Giannis Antetokounmpo: Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)