Bucks 109, Hornets 104: Last shots

Milwaukee — The Milwaukee Bucks knocked off the Charlotte Hornets 109-104 on Friday night thanks to 78 combined points from Eric Bledsoe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Khris Middleton.

Twelve last shots for Middleton’s 12 made field goals.

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1. After beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in their last outing on Tuesday night, Milwaukee was potentially staring down a trap game against the Hornets. It almost happened. The Bucks trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half before coming back.

2. That comeback was helped out by the fact that Charlotte guard Kemba Walker had to exit the game with less than 2 minutes remaining after hitting his head on the floor following a turnover. The team announced that he was evaluated by a physician and did not exhibit signs of a concussion following the game and will be re-evaluated in Charlotte on Saturday.

3. The Hornets were leading Milwaukee 104-102 when Walker attempted to drive down the right side of the lane before losing the ball. He then dove for the ball and smacked his head on the ground. Bledsoe recovered the ball, pushed it up the floor, and a pass from Antetokounmpo led to a game-tying dunk from Middleton. Walker subbed out with 1:42 left on the clock, and Charlotte was out of sorts for the remainder of the game.

4. The reasoning for Charlotte looking as discombobulated as they did offensively down the stretch was in part due to the absence of Walker, their best player, but also a swarming Bucks defense. The Hornets were unable to score in the final 2:28 of the game and Milwaukee closed on a 9-0 run. After Walker exited the Hornets went 0-3 from the floor and durned the ball over once on their four possessions. Before Walker exited he had a game-high 32 points for the Hornets.

5. At that point, the game flipped and Milwaukee looked more like the team that faced the Cavaliers than the team that struggled with a Charlotte team that’s now 10 games below .500 on the season. The Bucks have struggled to play consistent basketball during the season. The win over Cleveland was one that felt like it would build momentum for the young team. Maybe it has, as this is the type of game the Bucks have struggled to come back in throughout the season.

6. Milwaukee has been consistent in the fact that when Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe, and Middleton all score 20 or more points they’re unbeaten. This win moves them to 5-0 on the season. That trio is only going to get better as they gather more on-court time together. The key to it all may be Middleton. His consistency hasn’t always been there, but he fits much better as a third option as opposed to a second scorer.

7. Offensively, the Bucks have been playing really well as of late. The victory over Charlotte marked the 14th consecutive game that they’ve scored over 100 points. That makes this the longest such streak since January 30 through March 18 of 1987 when they strung together 22 games.

8. Middleton saw a considerable amount of minutes playing center against the Hornets on Friday night as well. Hornets center Dwight Howard leaving the game after only playing the first 4:36 with a dislocated ring finger on his left hand. With the absence of Howard, the Hornets were forced to play smaller for much of the night. That meant Milwaukee’s counter was Middleton at center, as well as Antetokounmpo for stretches.

9. “We didn’t deal with it well. He went out in the first quarter and they still had the lead for the majority of the first and the second half,” said Middleton of the lineup used to combat Howard’s injury. “We just have to do a better job of playing our basketball and not playing to the level of our competition.”

10. Middleton makes a valid point about playing to the level of their competition. On Tuesday night against the Cavs they played one of their best games of the season. Friday night against Charlotte was an entirely different story. That’s something young teams often struggle with. The Bucks aren’t a typical young team, however, they have a legitimate MVP candidate in Antetokounmpo and have the ability to become a championship contender in the coming years. Slip ups in games like this happen, but it’s something the Bucks need to work to eliminate. A loss to a below average team early in the season could be looked back at later in the season as to why they’re opening a playoff series on the road as opposed to in Milwaukee.

11. “We’ve been in a lot of close games this season,” coach Jason Kidd said. “This was a tough game. [There were] a lot of emotions in that last game [against Cleveland].”

12. The Bucks have a chance to take two in a row from the Hornets on Saturday. These teams square off for the second night of a home-and-home matchup in Charlotte.

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