Bucks halt Spurs late-game push, creep closer to playoffs

I’m sitting at home over Spring Break, in a town with roughly 2,000 residents, closely observing the Bucks-Spurs late afternoon game on the TV screen in my family room.

The game I saw was close most of the way, but Milwaukee was able to stop San Antonio’s late comeback and pull away with a much needed 106-103 victory over a playoff team in the better Western Conference. The Bucks also swept the season series for the first time since the 2008-09 season. 

I then I thought to myself, You know what? It’s Sunday night and my family is watching an episode of “Chicago Fire,” so I might as well do something I enjoy and write a non-required blog post on my sports journalism blog.

So anyways, here’s how it all went down.

Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to the starting lineup after a brief one-game absence due to a high foot injury he suffered Mar. 21 against the LA Clippers. And man, Milwaukee needed him every step of the way.

The Bucks started the game out very strong, forcing stops and turnovers on the defense end and turning those into fast break points. May I remind you the Spurs have a pretty good defense.

Milwaukee ended the first quarter with a 27-15 and held the Spurs to just 29 percent shooting in the period.

But Gregg Popovich and co. ensured that lead wouldn’t last long, and it didn’t.

San Antonio chipped away in the second quarter eventually tying the game at 32, and actually took brief leads throughout the period thanks to their zone defense forcing Milwaukee to take contested jumpers.

The Bucks, however, responded well and made enough contested jump shots to eventually tie the game at 47 apiece heading into halftime. Antetokounmpo already had 17 points.

Perhaps the most emphatic statement Milwaukee made in the second frame was Spurs forward Rudy Gay’s badly missed and kind of laughable dunk attempt, which ended up with the Greek Freak showing him how it’s done on the other end thanks to an assist from point guard Eric Bledsoe.

Milwaukee extended its lead even more in the third quarter, scoring 41 points and had a comfortable 88-75 lead heading into the final period. Bledsoe and small forward Khris Middleton scored the first two 3-pointers en route to a quarter where the Bucks shot 4/6 from downtown. The frame ended with Bucks guard Brandon Jennings splashing a triple at the buzzer from the perimeter, and the BMO Harris Bradley Center was rockin’ [at least from my perspective on the couch].

Most of the fourth quarter featured Milwaukee steadily maintaining its lead and went up by as much as 12 with under four minutes to go in regulation, but the Spurs have been down late so many times during Coach Pop’s time and decided to make one more run for it.

It began with shooting guard Danny Green’s 3-pointer and then a layup from point guard Dejounte Murray to cut the lead to 104-97, and this was all done in the span of less than 30 seconds.

Bledsoe answered with a clutch midrange J [in the words of Gus Johnson] with 2:20 left to put his team back up nine, but then center LaMarcus Aldridge responded with two free throws.

The rest of the Spurs followed suit by stretching the run to seven unanswered and had a chance to send the game into overtime, but the long arms of Middleton were too much for Murray’s last second heave to handle.

Coach Pop was not happy.

And with that, Milwaukee’s record now jumps to 39-34 while San Antonio drops to 43-31 with less than 10 games to go for both teams.

I mentioned earlier that the Bucks needed the Greek Freak to win this game. If you keep reading, you’ll see why.

Antetokounmpo finished with 25 points on 9/16 shooting, including going 3/4 from downtown. That 3-point stat for Giannis is not something you see everyday, either.

Bledsoe and Middleton had 23 and 19 points each, respectively, giving the KEG a combined 67 points. If the Bucks are going to get a higher seed for the playoffs, those two are going to need to play consistent basketball like they did against San Antonio.

Aldridge did Aldridge things, putting up 34 points and only adding to his recent hot scoring stretch which included a career-high 45-point performance against the Utah Jazz Mar. 23.  

San Antonio drops to the sixth seed in the congested Western Conference thanks to a tie-breaker advantage the New Orleans Pelicans have on them. Just a four-game difference sets apart the third and eighth seeds. 

The Bucks are now back up the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference after Miami fell to Indiana, giving Milwaukee a half game advantage over the Heat and is just one game back of the Washington Wizards for the sixth spot. 

The Spurs are going to have to finish strong if they want to avoid a powerhouse Western Conference team, but the loss shows that the team is missing Kawhi Leonard. It’s very debatable the result could have flip flopped if Leonard was available, but he wasn’t and hasn’t been for most of the season.

Milwaukee meanwhile has a comfortable six-game gap between the ninth seed Detroit Pistons and are essentially a lock to make the playoffs if they win a few more games.

But it might be tough for the team in Cream City to win a few more games, as Milwaukee goes on a four-game road trip to the Wild West beginning with a rematch against the Clippers at the Staples Center Mar. 27.

The Bucks this season have struggled against good teams, and in the playoffs, only good teams punch their ticket. If anything, Milwaukee’s win over a solid Spurs squad might just be a starting point for a prolonged playoff push.

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