In front of a sellout crowd of 18,717 for Fan Appreciation Night, the Milwaukee Bucks secured their first winning season since 2009-10, beating the Charlotte Hornets 89-79.
The Bucks, who secured their spot in the playoffs on April 8 after defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, guaranteed they will be at worst the 6th seed in this year’s playoffs, with the chance to move up to 5th if the Atlanta Hawks lose their last two games, and the Bucks win their last game April 12 against the Boston Celtics. As it stands right now, the Bucks would be playing the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.
This game saw the return of both guard Malcolm Brogdon, who missed the last five games with a sore back, and Center John Henson, who missed the previous 10 games with a sprained finger. The loss of Brogdon, a second-round draft pick who has worked his way into the Rookie of the Year consideration, was quite hurtful for the Bucks, who went 2-3 in his absence, including two double digit losses.
“It’s good that they’re (Brogdon and Henson) back tonight as much as we wanted them back last week,” Coach Jason Kidd said pregame. “I thought the guys did a good job with holding on and getting the win in Philly and now getting these guys back to get those guys some kind of rhythm and get used to their teammates is key when we have two games left.”
Brogdon returned to the starting lineup and played 25 minutes, and while he didn’t produce great numbers, his +/- while he was on the court was tied for second best on the team at +19 for the night. After the game he told reporters that he was 100 percent healthy, which is exactly what the Bucks want to hear heading in to the playoffs.
The Bucks raced out to an early 15-8 lead, with every starter scoring. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ first All-Star since Michael Redd, made another all-star caliber play, chasing down Brian Roberts on the fast break and swatting his shot into the stands. The Hornets answered the Bucks’ 15-8 start by going on a 16-3 run to end the quarter leading 24-18. The Hornets pushed the run to 21-3 before the Bucks began to fight back behind the three-point shooting of veteran guard Jason Terry.
Terry shot and made all three of his three-point attempts in the quarter, and helped the Bucks stay within three at the half, with the Hornets leading 46-43. The Bucks took their first lead since the score was 17-15 late in the 1st quarter with abut 10 minutes to go in the 3rd. The rest of the 3rd the Hornets pulled ahead, leading by as much as 6 points, and the quarter ended with Charlotte winning 66-61.
The Bucks came out strong in the 4th quarter, with Giannis picking up three quick assists on buckets by Michael Beasley and two from Greg Monroe, and the Bucks tied it up at 68-68. The Bucks took the lead 73-71 at the 8 minute mark, and led the rest of the game, with Jason Terry adding two more three pointers and Giannis securing a triple double on an assists off of a Khris Middleton with under one minute left to play.
Greg Monroe and Tony Snell led the way for the Bucks, scoring 16 points apiece, while Jason Terry and Khris Middleton both added 15. Giannis had a triple double, with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. The Bucks only shot five free throws on the night, which would usually hurt them, but the Bucks shot a scorching 16-28 (57.1 percent) from three-point range on the night, making 11 more than the Hornets (5-18, 27.8 percent from deep). The Bucks outscored the Hornets 28-13 in the 4th quarter, which Coach Kidd said was a factor of the team picking up the defensive intensity and continuing to shoot the lights out from three.
Jason Terry, an 18-year veteran, signed with the Bucks this past summer on a one year, veteran minimum deal, and his veteran leadership was immediately felt, but he proved he could also still play at 39-years-old. Usually when a player his age joins a team, they aren’t expected to produce much and are seen as another coach on the bench, yet Terry, nicknamed the Jet, has proven to be worth more than his minimum salary. His three-point percentage is the second best it’s been in his career, and his true shooting percentage is also the second best of his career.
“He’s still got it,” Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said after the game. “He still has the fire in him. He’s talented and a true veteran.”
While the player the Bucks got in Terry might not be the elite scorer he once was, he’s more than embraced his role as a veteran.
“I am the veteran leader,” Jason Terry said after the game. “Sometimes I do it vocally, sometimes I do it with my play, but for the most part we’re a very young team, but at the same time we’ve grown a lot this season, and for us to come back from where we were, to be able to solidify a playoff position, it’s huge for this organization.”
The game also served as a homecoming of sorts for Hornets’ forward/center Frank Kaminsky, who played his college ball at Wisconsin, leading the team to back-to-back Final Fours in his last two seasons. Kaminsky did not have a great homecoming, shooting 1-12 on the night, 0-5 from three, though he did contribute three rebounds and five assists.
The Bucks will finish off the regular season April 12 in Boston before beginning their quest for a championship this coming weekend. The Bucks, reportedly, will rest Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Snell and guard Matthew Dellavedova for the game as they get ready for the playoffs this weekend.