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Jazz 129, Bucks 115: Milwaukee's losing streak in Salt Lake City reaches 19 straight games

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel logo Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 2/13/2021 Jim Owczarski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
a man playing a game of football: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo gets dunked on by Jazz center Rudy Gobert during the first half. © Rick Bowmer, Associated Press Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo gets dunked on by Jazz center Rudy Gobert during the first half.

The Milwaukee Bucks carried one of the odder losing streaks in the NBA into Utah Friday night as they had dropped 18 consecutive contests in Salt Lake City, dating back to 2002.

George Karl’s Eastern Conference finalists in 2000-01 were the last team from Milwaukee to win in what is now called Vivint Arena, a 111-102 upset victory on Dec. 13, 2000 behind 32 points from Glenn Robinson and 25 from Ray Allen.

Unfortunately, that streak will carry on for another season as the Bucks fell 129-115 to the Jazz.

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"I don't know what to tell you," Khris Middleton said of the streak. "That's all I got."

BOX SCORE: Jazz 129, Bucks 115

Utah (21-5) won its sixth straight and 17th of their last 18 were without starting point guard Mike Conley Jr., but they were buoyed by having four players score at least 25 points. Defensively, they limited the Bucks to 36.4% shooting from the three-point line and limited Giannis Antetokounmpo for the better part of the game.

Antetokounmpo finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, but it took nearly three full quarters for him to reach double figures in scoring.

"I've played in Utah before, I know the team, I know what they do, I know what to expect," Antetokounmpo said. "This is not something new. Last year I was here it was exactly the same. I had two shots or three shots in the first half and again, two points. I know what to expect. I know they're going to show, crowd early, they're going to try to be physical.

"Whenever I go for an offensive rebound they're going to hit me, they're going to leave Brook (Lopez) wide open. I know what to expect. I was just trying to facilitate, play the right way and at the same time be aggressive."

Middleton was 6 of 14 shooting points while Lopez added a season-high 23.

The Bucks (16-10) turned up the pressure defensively in the second half and essentially took the three-point shot out of the playbook for the Jazz, but a 17-point halftime deficit was just too much for them to overcome.

Utah went just 2 for 14 from long range in the second half, but they also stifled the volume of Milwaukee’s shooting from three (5 for 10), leading to slow-paced half-court game. It suited the Jazz, as it was able to prevent the Bucks from stringing together enough stops on the defensive end.

The Jazz built a 17-point halftime lead to as many as 21 late in the third quarter without the long ball because it started going inside to center Rudy Gobert. The Jazz center scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half.

"Rudy on the offensive boards, those are kind of the ones that stand out to me," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Making him have to catch and finish, when you put it all together, sometimes that's a decent option for us. And he was able to finish a couple. But the offensive rebounding to me was where Rudy got going. A couple times he got in as he rolled to the basket in the pick-and-roll."

Milwaukee worked a 96-82 Jazz lead after three quarters down to 11 thanks to a Donte DiVincenzo dunk with 7 minutes, 11 seconds to go in the game, but that would be as close as they could get. Donovan Mitchell and Gobert made three free throws and Gobert had a putback dunk in response to push the lead back up to 110-94.

Another mini-run by the Bucks cut the lead back down to 122-111 with 1:36 to go, but three-pointer by Jazz forward Joe Ingles truly ended the threat.

Antetokounmpo scored 27 points in the second half and 17 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough for Milwaukee.

"He got aggressive," Budenholzer said. "Hopefully maybe we got him the ball in a little bit better spots. We were able to get some stops and when we get stops and we can get out and he can attack against a defense that's not set."

Utah took a 69-52 lead after one half thanks to an offensive effort that saw them go 12-for-24 from the three-point line hold Antetokounmpo to just two points on three shots on the other end. The Bucks hit seven, three-pointers in the half but scored just 21 points in the second quarter as the Jazz stretched a four-point first quarter lead to 17.

Milwaukee began the second quarter with one basket in the first three minutes but forced three Utah turnovers to stick close at 39-35, but another three-minute scoring drought in the middle of the quarter allowed the Jazz to stretch their lead to 51-38.

The Jazz then ended the half on a 14-5 run, highlighted by a four-pass set that took up 12 seconds on the clock and ended in an Ingles three-pointer.

"It's tough to get a team to guard for a full 24-second shot clock and that's something historically the Utah Jazz have always been great at," Lopez said. "They've always used the entire clock and always moved the ball and make teams guard for a full shot clock. A lot of teams either aren't capable or aren't willing to do that."

Ingles scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half, which included six made threes.

"A few times it starts with just probably we've got to guard the ball a little bit better, stay in front of us," Budenholzer said. "(Donovan) Mitchell is tough, he loves to reject the pick-and-roll, he's got a great crossover. We may have overhelped. But it starts with us maybe guarding at the point of the screen a little bit better."

Lopez led the Bucks with 13 points in the first half while Middleton and Portis scored 12 each. Jordan Clarkson had 16 of his 25 points for the Jazz in the opening half.

In the first meeting between the two teams on Jan. 8 at Fiserv Forum, the Jazz set a then-franchise record for made three-pointers with 25, utilizing a pick-and-roll game with their smaller wing players. Utah head coach Quin Snyder said that as more teams dropped their bigger players into the paint to defend the rim – a style the Bucks had deployed at an elite level the last two seasons – his response was to run pick-and-roll with his smaller guards and wings.

Snyder said the counter to that is for an opponent to switch, a method the Bucks tried to no avail in that January game. But he said his team has worked hard on then attacking that switch to create space.  

The Jazz has been able to run this pick-and-roll game and exploit matchups thanks to an experienced group that is now in its second season together, but it’s also a core that is adept at making shots from distance – they entered the game having attempted and made the most in the NBA.

And though the Bucks switched earlier and more often on Friday night, the Jazz countered by using Gobert in the pick and roll and continued to exhibit that aggressiveness to the paint -- like a Gobert dunk off an Antetokounmpo switch, a Clarkson floater off a switch over from Middleton or Mitchell drawing a foul on Portis in the lane.

And even when the three ball was taken away by the Bucks, the Jazz found an answer for it. Utah scored 54 points in the paint and 14 on the fast break to go with their 42 points off three-pointers.

Bucks recall Nwora

Rookie Jordan Nwora was recalled from the G League on Friday due to what Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said was a significantly sprained left ankle. Originally sent to the Salt Lake City Stars team on Feb. 3, Nwora scored 26 points on Wednesday in his only game. The G League is currently operating in a bubble environment in Florida.

Before heading to the G League, Nwora played in 10 games with the Bucks, averaging 5.1 points on 45% shooting.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Jazz 129, Bucks 115: Milwaukee's losing streak in Salt Lake City reaches 19 straight games

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