The Spurs are riding the wave of a season-high three-game win streak as they prepare to square off against the third-place Milwaukee Bucks in the final game of their week-long Eastern Conference road trip. Although San Antonio finally saw star swingman DeMar DeRozan return to the lineup on Friday night, they draw the difficult task of holding two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in check on the second night of a back-to-back.
Milwaukee comes into the evening winners of ten of their last 11 contests, having outscored their opponents by an average margin of 7.8 points per game over that stretch. Not only will the Greek Freak be accompanied by fellow All-Stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, but former Silver and Black alumni Bryn Forbes and head coach Mike Budenholzer will be front and center for this interconference showdown.
San Antonio Spurs (22-16) @ Milwaukee Bucks (26-14)
March 20, 2021 | 8:00 PM CST
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Out — Not With Team), Keita Bates-Diop (Out — Hamstring)
Bucks Injuries: Axel Toupane (Day-to-Day — Personal), Rodions Kurucs (Out — Oblique)
Protecting the Perimeter
The Silver and Black have allowed opponents to shoot the eighth-highest three-point percentage (37.5%) in the NBA this season. Although the good guys don’t give up a high volume of attempts, Milwaukee poses a unique challenge with their perimeter-oriented offense. The Bucks rank top six in the NBA in three-point makes (578) and efficiency (38.6%), and Giannis has carried his club to a fourth-place offensive rating (116.5).
Seven Bucks have shot at least 38% from beyond the arc, led by the all-too-familiar marksmanship of Bryn Forbes, who is draining the three-ball at a ridiculous 45.2% clip on 4.7 attempts per game. Pat Connaughton, Jordan Nwora, Sam Merrill, Bobby Portis, Khris Middleton, and Dante DiVincenzo are a threat nail a triple if given a semblance of daylight, and even Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez can do some damage off the catch.
Impeding the Greek Freak
Of course, all this offense starts with Antetokounmpo and all the attention he garners with his gravity. Giannis may not be much of a shooter, but he dances to the rim with impossibly long strides and finishes with Shaq-like efficiency once he arrives at his preferred destination. And that last claim is no exaggeration, as the Greek Freek has converted a staggering 79.6% of his 377 attempts within the restricted area this season.
The drive-and-kick is the five-time All-Star’s bread and butter, and this heliocentric approach fuels nearly everything Milwaukee does. And with a surplus of deadeyes lining the perimeter, stopping Giannis isn’t as simple as packing the paint to prevent penetration. The reigning MVP has the vision to find the open man when double-teamed, and as counterintuitive as it sounds, letting him a feast might be San Antonio’s best option.
Nine of the Bucks losses have come when Giannis records less than eight assists, which should come as no surprise since Milwaukee is at their best when the engine of their attack gets his teammates involved. Seeing as the Spurs lack the personnel to stop Antetokounmpo one on one, staying home on sharpshooters should be a top priority if they don’t want to become one of the many teams trampled by the three-happy deer.
Resting Tired Legs
After justifiably missing four consecutive games attending his father’s funeral, DeMar DeRozan made his long-awaited return to San Antonio’s lineup. Although it wasn’t all that shocking to see the four-time All-Star immediately reinserted into the starting five, it was surprising that head coach Gregg Popovich played DeMar for almost 37 minutes following a ten-day basketball hiatus.
DeRozan wasn’t the only player to get extensive minutes versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray, and Derrick White all received north of 35 minutes on Friday night. It was a strange albeit probably calculated decision, made stranger by the first DNP-CD for Lonnie Walker IV this season. And considering Trey Lyles got the same treatment, it wouldn’t be insane to think Pop saved them for the Bucks.
Should rest be on the table for DeMar, Dejounte, Derrick, and Keldon, it might be safe to say a rare Tre Jones and Luka Samanic sighting might be in the cards against Milwaukee. Even without the obstacles associated with a SEGABABA, this might be San Antonio’s least winnable matchup in a month. Conserving key cogs for the upcoming nine-game homestand isn’t the worst idea for an organization vying for playoff contention.
For the Bucks fans’ perspective, visit Brew Hoop.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.